If you are a location independent entrepreneur, you need to know how to handle every aspect of your business remotely and that includes the dreaded task of conflict resolution.
Disputes can arise between even the most conscientious business people and their clients. Clients may have unrealistic expectations about the services you provide. They may blame you for circumstances outside your control. Or they may simply have difficult personalities that create conflicts where otherwise none might exist.
The following tips are essential to ensuring that you can effectively resolve business disputes remotely, avoiding costly travel and in-person meetings that might conflict with your business model.
1. Set Forth Clear Goals and Expectations Regarding the Scope of Your Services
No matter what type of services you provide, the scope of your client relationship must be clear to all parties at the outset. Will you be working toward a discrete milestone, will you be providing a defined set of services on a long-term basis, or will you be engaged intermittently to offer a variety of services? Your written client agreement should set forth these terms clearly to head off-disputes later on.
2. Draft a Clear, Written Contract at the Outset
Any client engagement should commence with a clear written agreement. This written agreement can not only set the expectations discussed above, it can also provide you with releases of liability and can set forth dispute resolution procedures such as binding arbitration. Your contract should also clearly state your payment policies, refund policies (if any), and policies regarding the termination of the client relationship. The clearer your written contract, the more easily you can resolve any disputes that arise remotely and with a minimum of disruption to your business operations.
3. Schedule Calls or Remote Video Conferences Early to Head-Off Disputes
A written contract clearly setting client expectations goes a long way toward resolving disputes, but disputes may nevertheless arise. Once you see the signs of a disagreement brewing with your client, be proactive about setting up a remote communication session. A live call or videoconferencing session can provide you with valuable information in a dynamic context that might not be available from a cold set of emails. Your client will also feel that you are giving them real, personal attention even though you are still communicating with them remotely.
4. Communicate Clearly and Avoid Business-Speak
Nothing angers a client more, especially in the context of remote communications, than feeling like they’re receiving form response emails that do not clearly address their concerns. In communicating with your clients—either through email, videoconferencing sessions, or on the phone—ensure that you avoid boilerplate or, even worse, passive-aggressive language. Do not obfuscate or hide behind businessspeak. Communicate clearly and directly to correct any misconceptions the client may have, and, most importantly, provide solutions and/or next-steps to move the conversation in a productive direction.
5. Know When to End a Business Relationship
Although the tips provided above can help you salvage some troubled client-relationships, you must also know know when to end a business engagement to avoid longer-term difficulties. Again—assuming that you executed a clear, written contract setting forth your policies on this subject—you should be able to terminate your engagement remotely, as a last resort and with a minimum of effort.