When you own a business, billing disputes are an unpleasant fact of life. Regardless of how high-quality your products and services are and how excellent your customer service may be, disagreements are sure to happen. Your only recourse is to find ways to defuse the situation and turn it into a positive.
When someone questions your integrity or the quality of a product or service, it’s hard not to become defensive. However, taking the time to truly hear the customer’s side of the situation can produce invaluable benefits. You might even learn that you bear some responsibility. There may even be an opportunity to explain your side of the story in such a way that the customer sees that he was mistaken. At the very least, your customer may feel validated that you are taking the time to hear his complaints and are open to resolving them.
Understand the Dispute
Before proceeding, be sure that you have a comprehensive grasp of the problem. What caused the dispute? If one of your staff was involved, what is her impression of what happened? You might also consider bringing in a trusted third party to discuss the situation if it is complicated.
Go back through any and all documentation, including tracking and billing reports from any online business software that you use. Information in writing or available electronically can provide substantive information that you can use to understand your and your customer’s roles in the disputed situation. Before you assume that you are in the right, take a good look at the bill. If necessary, ask the employee who ran the transaction on your credit card processor if there were any difficulties on their end.
Strike a Balance
On one hand, you have your reputation and integrity to uphold. When it comes to a billing dispute – particularly if the same customer always seems to have the problem – it can be tempting to marshal all of your forces and refuse to back down. However, on the other hand, never forget that your company would cease to exist without loyal customers.
Even if you don’t believe something is your fault, there are times when it makes better business sense to take the blame. It can be a way to smooth a rough patch in what is otherwise a positive, long-term relationship. Sincere apologies for a customer’s inconvenience – even if he was at fault – can also help to put your relationship back on the right track. Never hold it over your customer or say “I told you so” if you are proven victorious in the dispute.
Occasional confrontations with customers are an unfortunate fact of life for anyone doing business with the public. However, if you are organized and document your customer interactions and transactions, you can be prepared for most issues. A healthy dose of empathy and humility combined with the genuine desire to listen will also benefit you in the long run. These tools are at least as important as any hardware or software you may possess.