When it comes to customer, or client, service we’re frequently told the customer is always right, that the needs of the customer need to be met. Customers need to be made happy so they will continue to be customers and tell others about the great service they get, so you’ll be able to turn a potentially unhappy customer to one who sings your praises to others.
That sounds great in theory, but there are times where the customer, or client, is not right. Entrpreneur magazine has an article by Zeke Adkins, the co-founder of the business Luggage Forward, in which he states the better advice is that, “Customers are not always right. They’re just never wrong.” If your client is the party that let someone down, he or she may need to look at this like a customer service issue.
Adkins’ approach can be useful when working with a client during negotiations or mediation.
- Listen first. Ask questions later.
Your client may be very upset by the situation. There may be a lot of money, pride and reputation at stake. Listen and be sympathetic. Ask questions to fully understand the underlying facts and how your client hopes the situation will be resolved. What are the client’s expectations in the situation and are they reasonable? Try to determine who is at fault for what.
- Own your mistakes, but only your mistakes.
Because of the discovery process, though it may be possible to try to keep things secret it’s probably pretty unlikely. Given the facts, does your client face potential liability? Did your client make mistakes? If so your client should take at least some responsibility for them, but not take responsibility for the mistakes of the other party. Overall, allowing your client to own up to his or her own mistakes can help in addressing the ultimate solution to the case. Recently, in an employment case, the defendant kept stating that they fired the employee for legitimate purposes which included bad performance and a drop in business. The plaintiff claimed that the timing of the termination indicated a discriminatory animus. The defendant, however, had retained the employee for ten plus years without ever giving a negative review. The case settled when the defendant realized that their inaction over ten plus years helped to create an environment that lent itself to a lawsuit. By understanding their own mistakes, but not owning the ultimate mistake that was the subject of the case, it helped to get the case resolved.
- Outline how you’re going to make things right.
Assess the situation and give your client options for a possible resolution. Tell your client how this might be resolved through negotiation, mediation and if that fails, litigation. If your client shares the blame for the situation, that will factor into what will be the demand or what offer is acceptable.
If you client is facing a situation because he or she let someone down and didn’t live up to expectations, the client should at least try to make things right. Even if there is no legal liability, or a low risk of a finding of liability, it may be worth the client’s efforts to at least give negotiations a try in order to put this problem behind them and avoid having a disgruntled party announcing to the world the dispute, harming the client’s reputation.
As an attorney it’s your job to at least try to make things right for your client. It’s up to your client to act in good faith and hopefully do the right thing.