Episode 303

Handle Client Complaints with Less Stress with Pete Dupuis

In this episode, Pete Dupuis joins me to talk about how to handle client complaints with less stress.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete and we’re talking about how to handle client complaints. Listen, most of you, when I say this with love are just really not very good at handling client complaints. It’s very easy for your ego to get in the way and for you to really kind of ruin, ruin relationships and start to damage your reputation when you’re not handling client complaints.

Well, and for those of you who’ve gotten good at it, or going to get good at it after this podcast, when you can really manage client complaints, well, You improve your reputation. You keep clients longer, get more referrals. There’s some real magic to be able to really effectively manage client complaints.

So if you want to level up your game in managing client conflict, this is a great episode for you. Keep on listening.

Welcome to the business for unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their [00:01:00] business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice. Expert insights and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential and become a real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness, business nerds. What’s up. Welcome to another episode of the business for unicorns podcast. And I am back today with Pete. How are you, my friend? I’m good. Back at it. Ready to tackle another playbook, right? Totally. How’s your 2024 treating you so far? Uh, good, but we just got dumped on with snow.

Yeah. And so it thankfully happened on a Sunday for us. So the damage as it relates to productivity around here is that we had a two hour school delay on a Monday to kick off the week. That was a win as far as I was concerned when I went into that day thinking that I was going to have my seven and nine year olds in the gym for our busiest, [00:02:00] possibly our busiest Monday of the year, to be honest, as far as how our calendar goes.

And so bullet dodged. Yeah, good for you. Yeah, I’m sitting under, I don’t know, a good foot or two of snow too. And it’s, uh, even just me working at home, it’s put a damper on my productivity. Because snow just makes you want to drink some. Makes me want to drink some tea and take a nap, but I also, it’s my dog’s first snow and it’s been really fun to watch him romp around outside.

And I recently got, had the privilege of seeing what your workspace looks like in person. Yeah, that’s right. And I know the view you’re looking at right now, and it, with a foot or two of fresh snow in front of you, because you quite literally look out the window at a scenic backyard. And I’d imagine that might hurt my productivity.

I’d be out walking around that pretty lake. It’s really beautiful. It’s really beautiful. Let’s dive in. Before we talk about today’s topic, which is all about like resolving client conflict or client issues, I just want to give everyone a quick reminder that Mark Fisher wrote a book not that long ago.

It’s all of Mark’s business fitness secrets, fitness business secrets, and it’s still available. And [00:03:00] everyone who’s read it that I’ve talked to has raving things to say about the book. The philosophies and theories that are in it and the tactical, practical examples and advice that Mark gives throughout the book, go to business unicorns.

com slash book to get the book and buy it for everyone in 20, 24. It’s a great one to share with your team do as a team reading. And, and obviously if you love it, leave it a great review, but go get that book. Cause I think it’s a great resource and you’ll be glad that you did. Michael, I have a question and this isn’t me, like.

teeing up a question that you told me to ask you. I got a Kindle for Christmas. Is it on Kindle? That’s a really great question. I’ll find out by the end of this episode and let you all know, but I would assume it’s on Amazon. I think they automatically put it on Kindle, but don’t quote me on that. But I will definitely find out by the end of this episode.

Good question. See, I’m going to make it my airplane reading on my way to Austin. We’re learning from each other all the time. Actually, I’m pulling it up as we speak. Yep. It’s available instantly on Kindle for At this, at the time of me recording this for only 8. 99. What a steal. Go, go, go check it out. So today’s [00:04:00] topic is all about, I’m going to kick us off with a quote, because we have a playbook for this and for Unicorn Society members, and it starts with a Warren Buffett quote that I think just really frames up this topic well, which is, Uncle Warren says, quote, it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.

If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. Yeah. What’s that say to you about client conflict, Pete? I need to get Warren Buffett out of my head because that’s the second time today someone’s quoted Warren Buffett to me, which is wild. I think it’s the second time in the last ten years and they both happened in the last six hours.

The one I heard before that was him saying when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked. And it felt relevant as I was having a conversation with someone about being too heavily leveraged against Facebook advertising when the cost per click goes up. And that was the quote that came to fruition from it.

And it was timely, but your quote, couldn’t agree with it more. I find myself trying to convey that message. To my son, who is having a [00:05:00] challenging time keeping his emotions on check on sports fields. And he’s got this reputation of being a great athlete, but he’s very quickly becoming a kid with a reputation of having a short fuse.

And so we’re talking about that regularly. Yeah. It applies in the weight room. Yeah. It applies on the Sports fields, it applies everywhere. Yeah, it’s so true. Cause it’s, you have great relationships with clients that last many years. We both have people at CSP and MFF that have been around for years. And those relationships, when something goes wrong with that client, we can ruin that.

In minutes, we can ruin that. If they have something that’s goes wrong and they need something from us and we don’t respond well, not only will we lose them, but they will go tell 10, 20 of their friends that we’re assholes, even though they loved us for years. And so I think that when you, when we, when I think about.

Resolving client issues. I’m constantly thinking about how can we break up if we need to amicably? How can I resolve this issue in a way that we both have a win for each of us? And it’s because [00:06:00] if I don’t do those things, I really can make an enemy and it really could damage our reputation and our revenue and our community.

And so I think that’s what’s at stake in this conversation. So let’s just go through a few best practices here that we think about when we think about this. So one of the things, one of the. The stats I often quote, which is, I think this came from like a Forbes article. I can’t remember what the research paper was, but it was some research that shows that a client is more than 90 percent likely to stick around after you’ve pissed them off.

If you resolve their conflict. Quickly. So they’re more than 90%. They’re more than like almost a hundred percent likely to stick around. If you resolve their conflict quickly, which means it doesn’t take too long. They’re not waiting days and weeks and months for you to make it right or apologize or fix things.

You resolve it quickly. When you do that, they’re going to stick around. They’re going to forgive you, but if you take too long or don’t resolve their shit at all, they’re going to be gone. So I’m just curious at CSP. What are some examples you have of how you’ve been able to like resolve an issue [00:07:00] quickly?

I have an example from just this morning. I was in the office talking to my office manager, Kevin, and he came in and he had, I had said, where are we at on this payment? There was an invoice out, it was a 240 transaction. And I said, we got to collect on that. Did you send the follow up? And he said, I did. I was just going to come and talk to you.

The dad emailed me back and said he was trying to resolve a 30 credit that he had been waiting on for a while. And he asked if I could jump on the phone with him to talk it through so we could get on the same page. And he’s, do you want to call him or should I? And well, one, my office manager can handle that call.

So I told him. Don’t come to me to ask that question in the future, just go execute. But I told him go give him a 30 credit and then call him. Show him some trust, show him, like, he may be dead wrong, but for 30 to deliver an instantaneous no questions asked resolution and then we call you [00:08:00] and say, Hey, I’m sorry for the confusion here.

There’s 30 in your account. I just took care of that. But anyway, where can we go from here? Instead of getting on the phone and saying, my records show this, you think that, and I want to win. Yeah. That’s not winning. That just means I’m not getting 240 next month. Yes. And they’ll begrudgingly pay it this month.

And I, I definitely am a long view person when it comes to this stuff, but I’d rather see somebody fix the problem. Before the conversation and have the conversation anyway. Yes. I think that’s so smart. P and that’s like, that’s the above and beyond shit, which is we saw the thing that fucked up, we fixed it immediately.

Maybe even before you even notice as a client or before we had a chance to talk, even though it’s fixed, we’re still going to talk and say, I’m sorry that happened or it’s resolved there. Here’s what happened. Here’s how we’re going to avoid it in the future. And we’re going to proactively let you know, like.

We’re going to let our actions speak louder than our words, right? That’s what you’re doing there. And I think it goes a long way to be like, Oh, they’re not fucking around. They actually want to take care of me. This was an honest mistake. Or this was the more we talked about, I realized this is happening [00:09:00] all the time around us.

We’re actually solving problems of this nature constantly. Just yesterday afternoon, Kevin came in and he said, Oh, this kid can’t catch a break. He’s having trouble getting into our pitching schedule. And today he showed up at two 30 thinking he had a pitching lesson or three 30. And he was scheduled for five, and we pulled up the email correspondence, and he messed up.

But the poor kid’s gonna kill an hour and a half sitting in here while his mom sits in her car. And I said, alright, run a t shirt out to him. He’s roughly my size. Bring him out a large t shirt. Tell him we appreciate him being patient and mistakes happen. And he came back in and he’s, I can’t believe how well that worked.

I said, what do you mean? He’s, you should see how the kid was glowing. Because we gave him an eight dollar t shirt. And the kid came in afterwards and thanked me personally and apologized for messing up the calendar. And he didn’t mess anything up. He just, he inconvenienced himself. But, there’s no way that kid is going to feel like we’re being mean to him the next time he tries to get into the schedule and I say, hey, it’s fully booked, gotta get creative like I did [00:10:00] last week and I felt guilty.

I earned the right to keep doing that. 100%. I love that. And I think your two examples so far also illustrate another kind of tenet that we talk about in our playbook, which is, which is your whole team has to know that it’s their responsibility to recognize and elevate conflict. Like they, and in both of those examples, people on your team recognize something wasn’t right.

Someone’s not happy. Something went wrong. A system broke down. Someone messed up, the client or us. And they knew to do something about it. They knew to raise the yellow flag, in both those cases, bring it to you. And, and without that, the opposite of that, is your team notices, doesn’t do anything about it.

But they’re like, Oh, sorry, right. They don’t actually raise the yellow flag and do anything differently. It’s let those little small things go. And that often results in clients feeling unseen, unheard, not respected, et cetera. So how do you develop a team that knows that shit shouldn’t happen when it does bring it to me?

Like, how do you teach your [00:11:00] team that? This stuff’s discussed pretty consistently in staff meetings for us when we run the client roster. And we have a look at, uh, any issues or concerns or updating the team on injuries or setbacks. And it’s very common for someone to say, So and so’s really been off lately.

Uh, I did a little bit of Looking around, or we recently had a high school athlete unfortunately lose his mother to cancer and Nobody knew and had been going on for months and we collectively agreed. Hey, you know what? This is his safe space Let’s not pivot into sympathy mode. Let’s lean even further into just being his positive place We as a team had a meeting and collectively discussed How do we want to adjust the way we handle our interactions with this person based on our updated information?

And the key here for me is just staying on task with us discussing things of this nature. [00:12:00] Reads we’re getting on clients, vibes that are coming from the training floor. And then share experience sharing and some people might say, I totally disagree. I’ve been getting a totally different read from that person and that might open a whole different can of worms as it relates to the coach who was misreading a situation.

But at the very least, the conversations are happening all the time. I think that’s all the time. And the fact that you are encouraging them to surface that in team meetings and you’re making space for those conversations sends a message like loud and clear to your team. Hey, it’s everyone’s job. To recognize when things aren’t right, it’s everyone’s job to surface conflict.

It’s everyone’s job to raise the, the conflict alarm bell to say, Hey, something, we missed expectations here. And I’ll, yes, undo all those things. And one of the things that I think we’ve done with great success in MFF is we also train our team on how to respond in the moment we practice in team meetings.

What happens when someone shows up and they’re on the wrong schedule and we can’t accommodate them? What do you say in that moment? What happens when someone comes to us, piss at. Their, their credit [00:13:00] card got charged twice as much. What do you say in that moment? And that takes practice. So in those moments, I know from being a customer service baby back in the days when I was working in hospitality, people will come up to me and they were pissed.

Then that moment when someone’s mad about something, a customer is mad and they come up to you. I know my heart be racing. My palms be sweating. I like would lose the ability to form. Thoughts and questions. And, and I really had to practice by getting in the reps and be like, okay, how do I calm myself? How do I learn what to say to de escalate the conversation?

And I think those are great things to role play in team meetings, to practice having that. And clearly, your team gets to practice on a regular basis because you’re encouraging them to process out loud as a team how you all are handling it. And I think that’s just, it’s really crucial. Yeah. And instinctually, I don’t always want to go in the right direction because it’s, it means Sometimes having hard conversations and admitting fault doesn’t feel that great.

And [00:14:00] we had someone get double booked in our pitching cage recently. And my initial reaction was to outwardly lament to the handful of people in the room who were not clients, they’re colleagues. Oh great, here comes the phone call from so and so. My afternoon’s gonna be great. And my colleague who’s been on the podcast, Andrew Millet, is fond of using the saying, write the final chapter.

And he was like, write the final chapter before she calls. Call her. Write her an email. And in my mind I’m like, yeah Andrew, I know that I’m supposed to do that, but you don’t need to make me feel bad about it. But in that very moment, I sent the email. Hey, unfortunately we had a scheduling snafu this morning.

100 percent on us. A mistake that won’t happen again. I’ve credited a free class to your son for next week, so his already scheduled session is going to be on us. I’m so very sorry. Please let me know if you have any questions and it just squashed it before she even had got word of it. She said, first, I’m hearing about this.

I’m sure we’re all fine. We’ll see you next week. There were no angry phone calls cause I sent one email [00:15:00] and we ate the cost of one session. Again, it’s such a, those are such great examples of how you being proactive, jumping into action is immediately de escalating. Like it immediately takes the bite out of any complaint that can happen, because you’re like, no wait, we own this.

That was wrong. That shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry. We’ve already fixed it. I’ve already given you something free or money back or whatever it is. And I think that it’s such a great example of how this doesn’t have to get dramatic. If you just swallow your ego for a moment and say, yeah, we actually fucked up.

That’s all that’s on us. I’m sorry, and it’s hard to do. I’ll give you one other kind of rule that I like that. I think you guys actually practice this, but I initially learned it from Alan Cosgrove was he keeps a there’s an understanding of what the budget is at the front desk that you can spend to solve a problem.

No questions asked. They like This is the amount of money that you do not need to come to ownership to ask, to request, to solve a problem. And it could be 20 in your space, it could be 250. And I think [00:16:00] in, at results, it’s closer to the latter than it is the former. But the point is The team feels empowered if they know there’s a no questions asked budget allocated toward this thing.

So if you can fix it, you don’t need to make it my headache as well. And so it’s something to think about in your own space. I think that’s so important. And when we were at the Four Seasons, in at least the Four Seasons, the rule was like, one night stay. You can spend up to one night’s stay, whatever the guest was spending on making them happy if you really need to, which there’s a lot of money in some cases, but it scales with their level of investment in staying at the hotel.

And at MFF, we try to get really clear where our team has the ability to make those decisions and where they don’t, they have to escalate to a manager or in some cases. To, to an owner, but I think those are great examples. And one last thing I’ll share, which is I’ll share a quick book recommendation.

There’s a lot of books on this topic, but there’s a book about, I think it’s called making conflict work. It’s Peter Coleman and Robert Ferguson, and it’s all about. negotiation and conflict [00:17:00] specifically in a work context. It’s a little, it’s maybe a slightly academic, but I like it a lot because it focuses a lot on how you build a relationship in the moment that resolves conflict.

So one of my key takeaways from this book, which I also Can share some experiences about, I’m sure you could too, which is often when you’re in conflict with a client and they’re like really pissed, coming at you angry, wanting to complain, they’re coming at you like an adversary. They’re coming at you wanting to be like head to head, like they’re on opposite teams, they’re against you and they want to win the conversation and our job and often our reaction to that is to post up and.

Try to win ourselves and we create this like adversarial conversation with clients sometimes because our egos get in the way and we don’t want to lose. And so one of the things that he talks about really well, they both talk about this book. It’s really helpful is to create the relationship in that moment where you’re on the same team.

So you say things like, Pete, thanks for bringing my attention. This really sucks. We totally fucked that up. I’m with you. But I want to find a resolution that works for both of us. [00:18:00] Like, I would even say things like, We’re on the same team here. Like, I really want to make you happy. So what can I do to make you happy?

Really sit next to them instead of across from them, even physically or metaphorically. And I have a really good example of this. I have a manager back when I worked in hotels. His name was Alistair, shout out Alistair if you know this big tall, like six foot five Irish man. And he knew that his stature was like intimidating.

He knew that people respond to him and like, they feel like they have to fight for their, to be heard from him because he’s so big and intimidating. And so whenever he was talking to clients who were upset about anything, he would make a point to go somewhere where he could sit down. Side by side, like on a couch next to them to equalize the kind of power dynamic that was inherent in his height.

I was like, that is like a masterful example of how to de escalate someone who might be intimidated by the fact that you’re like 6’5 towering dude. Just go sit next to them. And he would make sure they had a glass of water. He would bring like a [00:19:00] notepad so they could see him taking notes. And immediately he was like, no, I’m on your side.

I’m an advocate for you. Like I’m here to serve you and I’m going to do that to the best of my ability. And just like that kind of posture, who’s going to be mad at you? No one wants to fight you when you’re like, no, I’m here for you. I’m on your side. Like that’s such a powerful way to help get clients.

To a place where they’re going to say great things about you after this conflict. Yeah, that is next levels of awareness. Yeah, right. And that comes this is someone who at the time had been Managing and dealing with customer conflict for I don’t know 30 years, right? He’s it was not he was not a newbie But as someone who you know was a mentor of mine and I was like wow I never even would have thought of that but it’s just a powerful example And anyway, just wanted to share that anything else about resolving client conflict that comes to mind I’ll finish with a counterintuitive suggestion, and that is that don’t try and resolve everything.

Sometimes it’s okay to say we’re not a fit. And some of the most rewarding kind of [00:20:00] closures I’ve delivered have been, this isn’t gonna work, I’ve issued you a refund, I wish you the best of luck. And they aren’t all worth resolving at your own, the expense of your own ego or bank account, whatever it is.

100%. Yeah, there’s some emotional labor that’s not fucking worth it. Might just, just move on, and I think that’s worthy of a whole nother podcast, but I think it’s a great way to end this day. And when you’re really not a good fit, just say so, just do your best to part ways amicably, be overly generous on the, on their departure, give them the refund and then some, whatever it takes, find them a gym nearby, make an appointment for them, do whatever you can to have them walk out those doors feeling like, Hey, we weren’t a good fit, but they did it with integrity.

And so that’s, that is definitely an episode worth recording. Yeah, for sure. All right. We’ll leave it there. I know we’re at our time, but thanks for a great conversation, Pete. I think this is useful for our folks out there who maybe struggle with handling client conflicts. So I hope they’re all taking away a great tip and friends.

Let us know what you want to talk about next on this podcast. Shoot us an email, Michael up as a unicorns. com, peanut business, unicorns. com. [00:21:00] Let’s know what he wants to talk about. We’re here to take some suggestions, ask us questions. We really do use them, decide what we’re going to talk about next. Send us those ideas.

Thanks for a great one, Pete. See you on the next one. Good chat. See ya.