The conflict resolution tips that are guaranteed to help keep your students dancing with you and your clients smiling

It’s the one part of the job that dance teachers and studio owners dread more than recital stresses and costume malfunctions, more than toddler tantrums or music glitches.

Dealing with difficult dance parents.

They come in many forms – impatient, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, argumentative, defensive, intimidating, in person, in writing, 100% determined to get their point across, and to be honest –  they can really suck the joy out of working in this amazing industry. Do problematic parents intend to make your life difficult? Most of the time the answer is ‘no’. They’ve probably had a bad day or week and dealing with stress in other areas of life, looking for an outlet that just happens to be you. Of course you want to find the nearest exit or ignore the email in the hopes that it will resolve itself without you having to get all uncomfortable, but great customer service relies on great conflict resolution. With your dance moms and dads paying your bills, you can’t afford to shy away from helping to resolve their complaints – and never forget that an issue dealt with quickly and empathetically will get far more referrals through your doors than an unsatisfied customer will.

Keyboard Kings
There are few things more frustrating than coming home from a full day of running your business to receive a novel-length email from a disgruntled customer. Especially if you’ve just seen them face-to-face and everything seemed fine! But it happens all the time – your customers start putting their thoughts onto paper and their frustrations just keeps flowing. If you have an administration team at your studio, they should be intercepting these types of email to deal with directly, or to send you an abridged version if they feel you need to be in the loop.

When replying to customer conflict via email – don’t. You know by the first few sentences whether or not this is an issue that could escalate, and at that moment you should be making the decision to call them during business hours to discuss in person. Never let more that 24 hours pass (preferably 12 or less) between a customer complaint coming through, and attempting to make contact by phone. As much as your blood may be boiling and you have an incredibly witty response for them, don’t take the bait. Make some notes about their complaint so you are clear on the facts when you approach them and be sure to come into the call with an open mind. Defences down. If you absolutely must respond in writing, DO NOT respond to a difficult email outside of business hours.

Making the Call
So many studio owners hate picking up the phone but this is a situation where talking things through is the most effective way to troubleshoot, solve and de-escalate your customer’s issues. As a consumer, how often do you get a phone call after making a customer complaint? Hardly ever. Setting aside that time and effort to pick up the phone shows that you care about the issue and value your client’s time by resolving it quickly without too much back and forth. For a large issue you may consider holding a face-to-face meeting, but this can all be arranged during your phone consult.

The most important part of making this call is to really listen to your customer and show them that they are being heard (which in many cases is the core of what they wanted in the first place). Avoid interrupting them or defending points they make as they arise. Let them speak openly to get everything off their chest, and remain calm as a listener. It helps to remind yourself that you can’t control anyone’s behaviour but your own, so try not to take anything personally. Once you have given your client their space to be heard, ensure that you show empathy and have listened to their concerns.

“I understand that you feel disappointed in the (insert situation) in (insert child’s name)’s class. I want to help get this resolved so we can move forward and continue our positive relationship with (child’s name) and your family”   
If you need to justify actions on your studio’s behalf, make sure to do it calmly and clearly. Don’t repeat yourself or raise your voice, but speak matter-of-factly with a goal to educate your customer rather than to shut them down. Before you offer solutions, ask them how they would like to see the issue dealt with. Listen, and then react appropriately. If their demands are unreasonable then you can still thank them for the input before offering your resolution.

Keeping control
Getting into an argument with a client is NOT what you want to achieve when speaking with them over the phone or in person, so try to avoid too much back and forth with customers when they are angry, displeased or complaining. If the parent or carer sees that they have pushed your buttons and caused you to lose control of yourself, then you have already control of the situation. Some tips when dealing with confrontation face to face :

– Consciously ensure your facial expressions aren’t bored, irritated or angry. Instead remain concerned, sincere and interested.
– Maintain eye contact
– Stand or sit up tall
– Uncross your arms
– Take ‘thinking pauses’ where you need to
– Breathe
– Repeat or paraphrase their main points of complaint to show you have listened
– Don’t blame the customer or members of your team
– Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Under-promise and over-deliver (Eg, if you know the problem will take 24 hours to resolve, promise a response in 2 days. They’ll be impressed when you can get back to them in half the time)

The ‘bad reviewer’
The other type of customer conflict that you’re increasingly likely to come up against as your studio grows is less vocal but can be more damaging, and this is the low star or negative online review. If a current or ex-client leaves a derogatory review on your social media page, what can you do to save the situation?

There are 2 ways to deal with this, and they go hand in hand. And nope – we aren’t talking about removing the review.

1/ Respond to the review in a timely (24 hour) manner on the wall of your feed. Anyone browsing your page and seeing a 1-star review amongst 60 5-star reviews will naturally head to the lower one out of curiosity. Your response to the negative review – no matter how unfounded the facts may be – will say far more about your business than the review itself. Consider a response along the lines of:

“Hi (customer name),
Thanks for leaving this feedback, we really appreciate you taking the time to get in touch. We are always striving to improve our service and would love to chat in person to help resolve this issue. You can contact us on (office number). We look forward to hearing from you and continuing to provide excellent dance education to our valued clients”

2/ Drown the negative review in positive ones. Put a link your newsletter or closed Facebook group to encourage your loyal happy clients to leave their own honest review and your rating will jump back up, burying the negative one in their wake.

And look on the bright side – having that negative only makes you seem more real and genuine than the pages out there with solid 5 star ratings that they may have acquired less honestly.  

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