Episode 334

Reacting vs. Responding to Client Conflict with Pete Dupuis

In this episode, Pete Dupuis joins me to talk about: Reacting vs. Responding to Client Conflict.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete and we are talking about how to manage and resolve client conflict. Listen, if you’re in a customer service business like ours, you’re going to have customers who are unhappy from time to time. It’s going to happen. And for many of us, that’s a very stressful situation to deal with.

So in today’s episode, we break down our approach to handling client conflict and hope that it helps you resolve your client issues with less stress and more efficiency. So keep on listening.

Welcome to the Business for Unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Kehler. 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 [00:01:00] real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness, business nerd. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the business for unicorns podcast. I am back with Pete Dupuis today. How are you, sir? Hey, on my end, I heard you say nerd and not nerds. Are we getting super specific about our avatar? Who are you yelling at? Listen, someone needs to, someone needs to reign me in.

So who is the nerd we’re speaking to today?

It could be Pippin, my dog, behind me. He is definitely a fitness business nerd. He loves it. So I’ll let it be about him. Before we dive in today, I just want to do a quick little shout out to our friends at Perform Better. Most of you who are listening to this podcast, this is not the first time you’re hearing about Perform Better, the company.

They do two things amazingly well that you should know about and go and Do with them. One is they’re the go to resource for us and our gyms for equipment. So if you need help laying out your space, reconfiguring your [00:02:00] space and getting the best possible equipment for your space, you got to try and perform better.

And if you want fantastic conferences, where you’re going to get cutting edge information, people at the forefront of this industry, you’re You got to go to their regular seminars that they hold throughout the year, really across the U S and go to the web from better website linked down below in the show notes and go buy their equipment and check out their seminars.

In fact, at the time of our recording this, we just finished doing an business unicorns event with. Perform better headquarters and, and it was fantastic. Great group of people, great place to learn from. So go check out perform better. That being said, let’s dive into today’s topic. Today’s topic is this I’m excited for today’s topic because it’s a sticky one that we all have to deal with.

And many of us are just really stressed out when we have to deal with this. Today’s topic is managing client. Conflict. And what we really are going to focus on is clients who are unhappy. What to do, how to recognize when clients are unhappy, what to, how to [00:03:00] navigate those conversations to hopefully make them happy.

And so first things first, Pete, what’s your relationship with this topic? What’s your relationship with unhappy clients? Oh, so this one stresses me out because no matter how many reps I get in this capacity, It always, it becomes emotional internally. So if there’s one thing that I have improved since the first time it happened is internalizing it at a time where it’s important not to be reactive.

But it doesn’t change the fact that inside my mind I react in the same immature, quick, panicked, agitated, heart elevated sort of way. And so I guess my feedback for the fitness business nerd on the other end is that it’s totally okay. To continue to be agitated by the difficulty of collecting and receiving client feedback of this nature, but it’s not okay to react emotionally, especially as you [00:04:00] get more and more reps in the arena.

Yeah. So Pete, I think there’s no way for our bodies and minds, right. To, to not see This kind of conflict as a threat, right? When someone’s mad at you or disappointed with your service or complaining to you about one of your team members or something you did or an email you sent it, you’re absolutely going to have a physical visceral reaction that is uncomfortable, right?

It’s your body’s going to react as if you’re being at war and there’s really not much we can do to turn that off completely. But I think I love what you’re starting with here, Pete, which is don’t react from that place. Don’t go take action from that place of anger or hurt or frustration. Sit with it for a moment and recognize that you’re going to have that kind of reaction.

And over time, I think you probably feel the same way as I’ve been dealing with a lot of difficult, challenging client interactions for many few decades. Now that period of my. Negative reaction lasts [00:05:00] shorter and shorter as the years go by my physical, visceral upset probably used to take me out for half a day at work and I’d be like ruminating and stewing on, I’d be going to bed that night thinking about it now, like I’m pissed for three to four minutes.

And then, and I, in my head, that’s world class. Yeah. In three, three to four minutes, I’m like, fuck them and God damn it. And stupid fucking, and I let it all out in three or four minutes. And then I’m done. I’m fine. But that’s literal thousands of conversations with people who are unhappy, got me to the place, the Zen like place of being pissed for four minutes.

I think that interestingly enough, Between the combination of just years of doing this, we’re approaching 18 years, that’s a lot of client feedback. Good, bad, and ugly. And then you throw in employee defections and competitive landscapes, and then you put COVID on top of that. And what you have is, for me, this kind of concerning space that lives [00:06:00] somewhere between zen and reality.

numb or apathetic. And there were times in the last couple of years where I think it was concerning to people like my colleagues when it’s like they couldn’t get any emotional response. I was like, eh, yeah, of course we’re getting negative feedback. The sky has been falling for years now. I’m unfazed. And to a degree, A little bit of emotion matters there from your peers.

So you can’t go wholesale the other end of the spectrum. Yeah, you can’t just turn off completely not healthy at all. I put up a wall of armor is like not the way to go. The reason we have that strong reaction or any reaction at all is because we give a shit. If we didn’t give a shit about relationships with our clients and the experience we’re creating for them, then it might be easier to be numb and shrug it off.

And I think in some cases, when I’ve worked for much bigger companies where I’m not as close to the clients and a client was pissed, it was actually much easier to care a little less because I didn’t have a personal, intimate relationship with them. But in our [00:07:00] business, we know everybody. We know everybody.

And so we, we, we are appropriately upset when they come to us with a complaint because we care about their experience. And, and I think that there’s a whole spectrum there that we’ll talk about, but let’s dive in to some advice we give on this topic. So we have a playbook for our Unicorn Society members.

That’s about resolving. Client issues and we offer three steps. I figured we just talk through them and share our experience. I’m just going to share the three steps are, and then we’ll go one by one. Step one, when you’re engaging in client conflict is to reflect on your reaction. Actually, Pete and I just started talking about this already, but we’ll talk more about it.

Make sure step two is plan and practice your response, which means be intentional about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to address each. Conflict that arises and practice when you can to make sure that you’re really ready to perform at your highest level. And number three is to make sure you’re really centering compassion in your engagement.

Really trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and engage with them as if you were going through it yourself. Those are the three kind of main points that we share in our playbook. Let’s go back [00:08:00] to the first one again. We talked about a little bit already. But, uh, Say more, Pete, about like, why is it so important to, for us to reflect on a reaction?

The most important advice I’ve ever got from my business partner, Eric, has been the sleep on it advice. And it didn’t initiate, initially, Apply to this difficult client feedback so much as it, I guess it might have been, but it’s more related to email habits and maintenance because I’ve had enough moments in my career where I was ready to pop off and draft the angry email.

And Eric was kind enough to coach me up early, like first year or two of business to go ahead and write that draft, but don’t even think about hitting send until tomorrow. Let’s just come back to the conversation. And that was magical and game changing for me. Cause I don’t think I’ve ever actually sent.

the email in question in the history of drafting those emails, but it has been therapeutic to write them. And that advice applies in this circumstance as well. It’s pretty easy to say, I like to, I like actually the [00:09:00] conflict roadmap that we have in the playbook. You mentioned where it says start with, thank you.

Then it’s apologized and then say, all right, I’m so sorry. This happened, but what happened? What can I do to fix it? What are our next steps? Things like that. I. I have a hard time finding a better, quicker, more logical way of coaching up my peers, my colleagues on how to handle things than that simple, extremely basic five step process.

And once my team understands that everything moves smoothly, because the thing I’ll recommend that everybody consider in our audience is that it’s short sighted to think that we, the owners are the only ones getting the negative feedback and handling it in real time. And so this is bigger than just coaching ourselves on it.

This is about. How do we get the team in lockstep? What are our SOPs for this? And so we instinctually do this. Well, I think, but our team doesn’t 100%. And listen, I don’t know that every leader does it, does it well at all [00:10:00] times. I’ll speak for myself with even the, all the experience I have, there’s still times.

Especially early on, I totally sent the angry email. I even left the, the angry voice memo, right? I said the wrong thing to their face early on, and I’ve gotten better at making, not making those kinds of rookie mistakes, but there’s still times where I don’t handle it as well as my best self, which is I would, but I think with more practice, we can all get a little better at this and teams also can practice.

I just want to go back to what you said, which is that advice from Eric, I think is so smart that sleep on it, because I do find that. Time is one of the few things that consistently helps deescalate this kind of problem. stress, right? It just take time. And I’ve never woken up the next day or the next day after that and been more mad than I was when it happened.

Almost never. Yeah. Yeah. I was good. So I think whether it’s don’t write the email or don’t send the voice number or don’t talk to the person. One of the things I find I do is I need to go vent to someone. So [00:11:00] I’ll find a trusted friend or sometimes it’s my husband. Right. And instead of writing the email, let’s just Talk it out with someone.

Can I just complain about this person for a second and just want to say all the things to someone that I know I can never say to them. And it’s just like letting out the steam, letting off the steam, literally, right? Just getting it all out. So I can just reflect on, okay, why am I so pissed about this?

What I really want to say, if I could. And then I can move on to really step two, which is plan. Okay, what is the right thing to go do next? What is the plan for my response? And how can I like make sure I’m ready to give that and make it and be as genuine with it as possible? Because I don’t want to fake it.

So I have to get to a place where what I know the right thing to say is the thing that actually I want to say. I want to plus one your vent and make a recommendation in this front. When you go and you vent regarding the thing. That happened and maybe you workshop or brainstorm what your potential approach can be moving forward.

Don’t stop at a colleague. [00:12:00] Don’t let it be in your eco chamber. where you walk into that conversation, possibly as the highest ranked person in the organization. And you take this complaint to somebody who feels like it’s their obligation to nod their head and say, you’re so right. And beyond on team Michael.

And so you saying, taking it home to Andrew or me. Take it home to Katie. That’s where I get the best advice. So it might be, we sit down at the dinner table or the kids have got up and begged us for a Netflix show or something and left the table and I say, Hey, I know we try not to talk about work too much here at the table, but can I talk to you about something that went down today?

I’d love your feedback. And that’s when the challenging maybe questions or just challenges to my mindset are presented from somebody who does not have any obligation to kiss my ass. Yeah. And usually she punches holes in my thinking and is very effective at identifying my emotional immaturity in the reaction.

Whereas I don’t always have a team [00:13:00] member who’s willing to say that, okay, you’re being a child and take this outside of work. Okay. To someone who is not incentivized to tell you what you want to hear when you do this. Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s really great advice. And honestly, I would say one out of every five coaching calls I have with our unicorn study members is them bringing this stuff to me.

I’m sure you get this a lot too, right? I’m saying, Hey, I have conflict with the client. I have conflict with a team member, a conflict with my business partner, and they want to workshop their thoughts and their response with us as a third party, no dog in this race, happy to tell you what I think kind of outsider.

And I think you’re right. I think, I hope in those moments that I’m helpful to them in the same way that Katie and Andrew have been helpful to us. That’s where the best information gets shared internally in unicorn society. When people go into the Facebook group and say, Hey, I’m looking for an experience shared.

This just happened. What would you do? And you’ve got a hundred plus gym owners who are like, yeah, I’ve done that. Here’s how I messed that up. Here’s what I think you should think about. And they’re just coming from a place of generosity. Cause they, they’re going to kick in their two cents, but [00:14:00] they don’t lose anything if you have the bad response.

And so they’re just giving their best advice and you can take it or leave it. But there’s gold in there every single day. Yeah, totally. Yeah, so let me, I want to pull apart just step two a little bit here. So I’m, as I mentioned before, step two is really plan and practice your response. And what I mean, what we really mean by this, there’s a few things I think that are easy to overlook here.

Is when you’re. Planning and practicing response. Your job is also to go collect all the data, right? Cause you might not have all the information about what, what happened, right? Often a client left you a voice memo or sent you an email that they’re pissed about something, but you might need to go talk to the trainer who was in the room.

You’ll need to go talk to other clients who were in the room. You may need to go look back in your, your database of past client complaints, but have they complained about this before? Is this a known issue? Is this something we’re already working on? And the other research you want to do here is what can I offer them?

Like what can I put in my back pocket to bring into this conversation to try and please them? Am I offering them discounts? Am I [00:15:00] offering something for free? Am I offering extra trading sessions? Am I offering an apology? Am I trying to get someone else to give them an apology? So there’s all of this strategizing.

That you have to do before you just jump into the conversation. And sometimes you can jump into, I’m so sorry, I, this really matters to me. And I want to get this right. Is it okay if I go gather some more information before we talk anymore? Cause I want to make sure I have everything I need to be helpful to you in resolving this, but I want to resolve this quickly.

So I promise to get back to you tomorrow, right? It’s okay to do that. But I think you, especially if you weren’t there, didn’t see it, didn’t hear whatever the thing was, there’s a moment where doing a little plotting help you find the best possible solution. Yeah. What would you, anything you would add to that, Pete?

You said earlier that it’s totally okay that we have emotional reactions to these things because it’s our thing. And maybe earlier in your career in corporate, you felt a little less attached emotionally to this stuff. So a bad day, it was just a bad day that you left behind you and you went home. Um, we have team members [00:16:00] who feel closer to that corporate scenario where they might get yelled at by a parent, but at the end of the day, they’re like, I don’t give a shit.

Like, this isn’t my brand. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and it’ll be a new day. I’m going to go home and not feel bad about this at all. I’m not going to feel anything. That’s why this planning piece is so big. It’s designing SOPs around the reaction. Because the better we do at scaling the thing, the more we tend to successfully pull ourselves away from the operation.

But in doing so, we take the people who are emotionally attached out of the recipe. And when that happens, we need these systems. Yeah, 100%. Yeah, and maybe we’ll go back over that conflict road map in our playbook in a second. But let me just introduce our third step here in the interest of time. Just talk about it briefly before we talk about the actual kind of script here.

Step three here is to engage with compassion, right? So this means to pick a time and a place where you can really have this conversation. Face to face with a client, I think number one mistake hands in a way [00:17:00] above any other mistake. I see people make here is they try and do this via email. They try to do this via text voice memos.

It never goes well. Almost never goes well. So if you really want to meet face to face, pick a time and a place where you can sit down and have the conversation, actively listen to the customer, take notes, make sure your body, that language reflects someone who is like physically present and available to them, and then maybe we’ll go, I’ll just read through the conflict roadmap, but you want to say, thank you.

Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. You want to say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry this happened to you. This is not how we like to do things around here. Then you want to ask some questions like what happened? How can we fix it? Right. Dig a little deeper, collaborate with them, give them the sense that you’re sitting on the same side of the table.

You’re on the same team and then move to the conversation towards what’s next. How can we support you in finding a solution? But even just those five things like, thank you. I’m sorry, what happened? How can we fix it? What’s next are such a clear roadmap to moving the conversation forward. And that’s the kind of stuff [00:18:00] you can absolutely practice.

as a team. Yeah. So I know you’ve done this so many times for you. What else do you do to help resolve and deescalate these conflict conversations? The first two steps, the thank you and I’m sorry tends to bring down people’s anger and hostility, right? It totally changes the game. I’ll tell the audience that in my experience, I build these interactions up in my mind to be some sort of epic battle.

And they’re almost. Always so much easier than I thought they were going to be. And I’ll tell you what, probably my crowning achievement in one of these moments was we had this employee at a business across the hall who was rightfully pissed at how my staff and interns were handling the communal. There was a, there’s a restroom that has lockers and showers that are shared.

And apparently my team didn’t have great habits on leaving it as they found it. This was about 10 years ago and this guy came in real hot and [00:19:00] he stomped into the office and demanded to speak with the owner and ended up in my office here in the corner without me having a chance to prepare. And since I hadn’t had any chance to put any thought into it and didn’t know what he was coming in to talk about, I didn’t get agitated.

I was just sitting here at the end of a busy day and I thankfully went with the thank you, I’m sorry, before I even knew what we were talking about. And that brought his guard down so far that by the time we ended the conversation, I had signed him to a three month commitment to our strength camps. And so we went from man looking for an argument to man leaving his Amex on file.

And I’m telling you, the key to that was thank you. And I’m sorry, before anything else. What a great story. Yeah, it’s a perfect example of how you can easily deescalate, make a connection, and then find a path forward. But they gotta know that you care. They gotta know you appreciate you, them bringing it, you, them bringing it to you.

And they gotta know that you’re committed to, to making it better for them, whatever that takes. And yeah, I think it’s a great story. Maybe we end there. [00:20:00] Anything else you want to share on this topic? Don’t stop at just that conversation. A follow up isn’t a bad idea, an email reiterating what was discussed and thank him again for taking the time to share their feedback.

Yeah. I think it’s some proactive follow up is really the thing that makes sure the same mistakes don’t happen over and over again. Uh, and oftentimes that follow up means a little bit of retraining of the team to make sure that whatever ball was dropped is an SOP that gets refined and reviewed and practiced just a little bit more to make sure that those same kinds of mistakes don’t happen again.

Yeah, and as a leader, we need to be careful about the way we talk about these things internally, like at a staff meeting, be it complaining about a parent or complaining about, like I said, an employee across the hall, things like that, because The way we act is assumed to be the norm and the expectation.

And these are the moments where we let a little bit of our emotional immaturity get the best of us. And the optics of it aren’t great. And it only [00:21:00] reinforces to the team that it’s okay to be a little bit juvenile in your reactions to these things. So that’s where the stoicism is pretty huge. With your colleagues when you talk about what happened and how it was addressed.

Yep. We’ve all worked. And I speak for myself. I’ve absolutely worked in those cultures where it was okay and expected that we like shit talk our clients. Right. That we like talking about the, Oh, that pain in the ass ones and that blah, blah, blah, that really we would say not nice things about our clients on a regular basis, that was just okay and accepted.

And listen, I’m all for a little bit of venting. I think that can be helpful sometime when someone’s really pissed you off. I’d rather you yell at me in the office than at the actual customer. But if your culture is one where that kind of gossip. And shit talking of clients is supported. It’s going to bleed into the client experience.

People will know. And that’s the last thing that any of us want who’s doing this work. So make sure that you’re, we are leading by example in that way. I think that’s a good. Yeah. And your employees don’t stay with you forever and that reputation tends to get out into the wild and you don’t want to [00:22:00] be known as the facility.

It has that negative attitude. Even when I was working at the Four Seasons, we had, we had a, a name for challenging customers. We would call them high expectation guests, right? So anyone who we saw had a really high expectations really meant they’re beating the ass, but it was our really positive way of talking about them, that this person expects a lot from us.

And if we don’t deliver, we are going to hear about it. So we would refer to them and they would have their face, their picture would be on a wall in the back that these people have high expectations, which meant get it right for them. We try and get it right for everyone, but these are the folks you want to cross your T’s and dot your I’s, especially because they will notice and they will complain and it’s good that we know that.

We can get in front of it and that program itself gave us some great language for how to talk about them and, and let us be proactive to make sure that we really get it right for that. That’s great. I’m stealing it. Yeah, great. I love it. Awesome. Thanks for a great chat as always, Pete. Um, and listeners, we hope this is helpful.

I [00:23:00] hope you can took some notes from this and you go and manage your next client conflict just a little more effectively moving forward, but. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to go check out our friends over at perform better. Click the link down in the show notes and let us know what you want us to talk about.

Hit us up on social media, DM us or email us michaelatbusinessfunicorns. com peanutbusinessfunicorns. com. Let us know what you want us to talk about. Ask us questions, give us topics. We’re always looking for ideas for things to cover on the podcast. So let us know what matters to you. Thanks Pete. Talk soon, Michael.