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Unsure what I can do to assist in this situation - can anyone give some tips?

I have a situation where my report is being bombarded by a "squeaky wheel" client - the client does not follow any of the normal procedures as to how to brief work to us, but rather, leaves matters to the last minute and then phones, emails and appears at my staff member's desk, within the space of 30 seconds.

My staff member raised this as an ongoing problem via 1:1's, and I've made it clear that this means of engaging us is not acceptable, and that I 100% support my staff member in "pushing back", either by a direct conversation asking for a change in behaviour, or indirectly by simply not dropping things to help this particular person.

We have a case study brewing today - my staff member will be on leave from tomorrow, and has a full plate. Shortly after he stepped out for a meeting this morning, the client arrived at my office asking whether my staff member was here today "because I've phoned and emailed him". He didn't introduce himself nor respond to a polite enquiry whether I could help.

My staff member has (via 1:1) agreed to take some action to curtail the behaviour, backed by me saying if he gets no joy I will raise it at a much more senior level as an example of ineffective engagement.

Is this the right thing to be doing? Are there other steps I should take?

In particular, I feel almost hypocritical in directing my report on this, because I myself struggle with those kind of difficult clients. Although I quite openly admit to my direct that I find those situations difficult, I have a residual sense of "management guilt" that because it's a tough one, I should intervene - even though I know that's not going to help my staff member grow.

TomW's picture

Just to help clarify a little, is this an internal client (someone within the company) or an external client (someone from another company)?

Your description sounds like an internal one, but I want to be sure.

If this is someone in your company, what is their role? Who is their supervisor? Other than being annoying, how does this person's behavior impact your direct's effectiveness and his own?

HMac's picture

Arc -

Your first assignment is fact-gathering.

Get a clear understanding how your direct's behaviours may enable the situation with the Client.

Make sure the direct isn't suddenly "blowing the whistle" on client behaviours he or she has been comfortable with for a while, and now suddenly comes to you with pent-up frustration looking for an immediate fix (at least that's what I've sometimes found when my staffers came to me with similar situations :wink: ).

I'm not absolving the client at all - sounds like a real gem.

But as manager, your best decisions will be based on getting a clear and factual understanding of what's going on....

-Hugh

jhack's picture

Internal or external does make a difference.

Don't go to senior management until two things have happened:
1. Your direct has taken action to make the situation better.
2. If that doesn't work, you personally take action to improve the situation.

Senior management doesn't want problems served raw. They don't mind if you've tried, failed, and come to them with a plan that requires their involvement or support.

Hugh is right: if this client has been doing this a while, then both parties are responsible.

While your staff member is out, it's an opportunity for you to meet with this person FTF, and mutually agree to a process that works for both of you. Gather your facts.

And if you properly grease a squeaky wheel, it stops squeaking.

John

HMac's picture

[quote="jhack"]Senior management doesn't want problems served raw. [/quote]

A tip of the hat to you, John: a great and memorable phrasing of sound advice. :idea:

-Hugh

AManagerTool's picture

To heck with Sr. Management...This first Line Manager doesn't want them served raw either! By the way, this is NOT ever a Sr. Management problem IMHO. The only thing my management would get from me would be a heads up during our staff meeting, just in case the customer escalates but I'd never toss this on their desk without handling it at my level or lower.

I used to handle these situations all the time. That has changed.

My first reaction would be to ask my direct what [u][b]they[/b][/u] are going to do about this customer and then proceed to guide them through questions to the proper solution for the situation. That solution varies all the time so asking questions is crucial. Once they get a good path forward, I tell them they have my full support and authority to handle it in the way we discussed. This is much more empowering than taking care of it for them and over the years the amount of incidents like this has decreased because both the customers and my staff know what to do.

I'd then steel myself for the customers visit to my office....LOL. 80% of the time, I never hear from them and the problem gets handled. The other 20% require my explanation of how our call system works and why. I also like to gently add that had they actually followed the procedure, their problem would have been solved already as we have a 4 hour turn around time for most service calls.

You may ask what happens to customer service satisfaction ratings. They go UP! Your one trouble customer takes up the time of two or three other good customers. When you handle it, the vast majority of your customer base loves you for it because they get better service.

I hope this helps, good luck.

bflynn's picture

My read is that this is entirely internal and we're on equal levels in the organization; the customer is a peer of your direct and the customer's boss is your peer. If any of this is wrong, we need clarification.

My read is that your direct just has a difficult person to handle. Ok, fine, they exist. If you're getting involved, I would start with a conversation with your peer - the other boss. HOW to do that effectively is a topic in itself. Let him carry (dump) your water down while you handle things on your side. Between the four of you, you should be able to get reasonable rules laid out.

Brian

arc1's picture

Guys, sorry it took a while to come back and clarify - been offsite - but you figured it right on all counts: internal client, and more or less a peer of my report. The org structure is a little haphazard, so you could argue my logical peer is actually a few rungs higher than that again.

Another clarifier, both my report and I are brand new to the org, so we do have little established credibility, but on the other hand, we've not been encouraging or tolerating any bad behaviour. With my report I've been emphasising the need to strike a balance between building relationships and establishing boundaries.

It's been left on the basis that he will attack the problem with my full support, so it sounds from this thread that my thinking is right...

IanPratt's picture

Hi,

New to the organisation, person with unique qualities to deal with, sounds like you got thrown into the deep end.

I like to fix problems in the eye of the storm, when there is a lull in activity. So, I would suggest waiting until the clients immediate issue is resolved and then have a "coffee" and a chat with both your staff member and the client and take time to really understand your client and their needs - after they have done a lot of talking and you have done the listening.

Then you can ask the question "how can we better work or plan to meet your needs?"

Listen to their suggestions, discuss some (Show interest) and then ask "Would you like to know what we do for our other clients?"

The process is establish rapport, ask for help, offer a solution