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RESPONSES TO CLAIMS AND COMPLAINTS : design
There are two basic responses you can make to a client’s claim or complaint. You
can either agree to make an adjustment or deny a client’s claim. The way you
choose to organize the message depends on the response (agreement or disagreement),
the complexity of the complaint, and/or the way you have been doing
business with the client all along. You can use the following patterns to create
telephone scripts as well as written messages (e-mails and letters).
Direct Organization
In general, use a direct pattern of organization if you:
Agree to make an adjustment, in which case you should:
1. State your agreement immediately
2. Express your appreciation to the client for bringing her complaint or
claim to your attention, noting that it helps you maintain your high standards
3. Offer your solution to the problem
4. Explain what happened
5. End on an optimistic, future-forward note
Deny for the second (or third) time the client’s claim, in which case you should:
1. Restate your refusal immediately
2. Summarize the reasons for your refusal
3. End on a positive or neutral note
Confirm in writing a phone conversation in which you have already refused the
client’s claim, in which case you should:
1. Restate your refusal immediately,referring to your previous phone conversation
2. Summarize the reasons for your refusal
3. End on a positive or neutral note
Indirect Organization
For most other situations where you must deny a client’s claim, use the indirect
pattern of organization.
1. Begin with a positive tone, but don’t say “no” until Step four. Avoid apologies.
Be succinct. State your appreciation for your client’s business and/or mention
a relevant topic you both agree on.
2. Restate the problem in your own words. This gives you the opportunity
to broaden the client’s perspective while mirroring the client’s concerns.
3. Explain what happened. Support your denial of the claim before you actually
say “no.”
4. Just say “no.” Be decisive. Avoid apologies and loose ends. However, be
tactful at the same time by using the following strategies.
• Use the passive voice or else use “we”; avoid using “I.”
• Subordinate your refusal in a larger sentence.
• Focus on what you are doing for the client rather than what you
can’t do.
5. Close with a positive, forward-looking tone. Avoid referring back to the negative
decision. Look forward to the completion of the project and/or future projects.
REFUSALS
Another situation where the tone and organization of your message need
finessing is when you must say no to a client’s request for services beyond those
agreed upon, a break on the contracted pricing, or other favors, such as pro bono
work. Using the direct method is often appropriate when you know the client
well, but in other cases the indirect method works well.
What do you do when your client calls you with a request that you can’t
grant? In a situation like that, you may feel pressured to provide a “yes” answer
even though you don’t really want to agree. If that’s the case, say you’ll get back
to the client, hang up, and begin formulating your “no” answer. Use the same
indirect organization for the main point and details of your message for a telephone
script that you would use for an e-mail or letter.
1. State the reason(s) for the refusal first. If you have several reasons, think
them through before responding and choose to give only the strongest and most
convincing ones. It’s necessary to edit your initial response. Not weeding out
your weaker reasons will weaken your whole case.
2. Give the refusal.
3. Suggest an alternative, if possible.
4. Close with a positive look towards the future.
COLLECTIONS
Collection letters request payment of an overdue bill. Most of these letters are
written using a direct pattern of organization (early contacts being the exception)
and neutral language in order to keep channels open for future business or
referrals. (Even if you never want to do business again with a particular recalcitrant
client, you might want to work with her friend, congregant, or tennis
partner, who thinks the world of her.)
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14 graphic revised 2/12/07 4:45 PM Page 175
Collection letters are generally classified into three stages—Stage one
(early), Stage two (middle), and Stage three (late). These stages dictate the gentleness
or severity of the tone you will use in your writing.
Collection agencies and the billing departments of larger firms also use the
telephone to get their collection messages across. In fact, they tend to contact clients
by phone first for a less litigious conversation that gives the client an opportunity to
explain the situation and agree to rectify it. They send letters when phone calls (or
e-mails) don’t result in payments. If the situation worsens with no payment forthcoming,
then phone calls are used in conjunction with letters. No matter what size
your operation is, you should use the same consistent, busine