As online marketers, we are continually working to generate leads to offer our products and services. Simply put, this means that we are looking for customers and/or clients. While these customers and/or clients are essential for our businesses, they require inter- action of some sort. It is in these interactions where opportunities for disagreements arise. How we handle these customer disputes can greatly impact our overall success. As such, we need to formu- late a plan for how to do so effectively.
In my work as an asset protection attorney, it has come to my at- tention that people mistakenly believe that asset protection deals solely with the creation, implementation, and operation of legal entities. There’s good reason for people to have this belief since I spend the bulk of my time working to educate them and assist them in understanding the importance of overcoming the three legal pitfalls of lawsuits, income taxes, and death taxes. I always focus on the areas of asset protection, estate planning, and tax reduction to help them to overcome those pitfalls. However, it’s
also important to realize that there’s much more involved in the overall process of protecting one’s business. With that in mind, I wanted to provide a synopsis of the core areas that all business owners need to devote their attention when it comes to dealing with their customers and the potential for disputes arising out of their interactions with them.
The process that I advocate for my clients is to go through a bit of a checklist for protecting against the potential negative repercus- sions that can arise when these disputes are not handled correctly. The checklist is made up of the following areas of focus:
By taking a look at each of these focus areas individually, we can gain a better understanding of what must be considered in each task.
The first part of the overall plan deals with communication. The longer I’m in business and working with others who are in business, the more I’m convinced that a lack of communication is the source of most problems. What I mean by this is that there is a bit of a disconnect between the buyer and seller as to what is included in the products and services that are being purchased, how they are supposed to work, and how the process works for dealing with questions regarding the products and services. This can be handled on the front end of the purchase so that the customers will have a complete understanding prior to the purchase. However, many sellers seem to be afraid that if they go into too much detail, they may end up losing the sale. This is a valid concern. The challenge, though, is that they end up spending an exorbitant amount of time after the sale dealing with dissatisfied customers. Anyone who’s been in business for any appreciable amount of time can certainly relate to this one. It’s important for any business owner to think through their communication with their customers and/ or clients and implement a clear communication process to help protect against potential disputes arising in the first place. While we can’t eliminate conflict, we can seek to mitigate it.
The next area is negotiation. This involves working with disgruntled customers/clients to seek a potential solution for resolving disputes. How disputes are handled can make the difference be- tween success and failure when it comes to saving a sale (short- term) and saving a relationship (long-term). Sadly, many business owners take great efforts to avoid any sort of negotiation as they mistakenly believe that it’s a waste of their time. This may be the case in certain instances but overall, it can make a big difference in how the customer views their experience with the company.
For those who feel that they don’t have time to negotiate the details of their transactions with their customers, it’s important to take care of this in advance through the implementation of clear and concise documentation. Do you have a clearly stated “terms and conditions” section on your website and in your sales agreements? If not, this is an area where you need to place some focus. Having the ability to direct disgruntled clients to the terms and conditions that they agreed to as part of the sale can be a great way to cover yourself. Keep in mind, however, that a customer could get upset about this and need some negotiation.
Once things get to a point of contention, which can often be the case, it’s important to have clauses in your agreements dealing with how disputes will be resolved. This is where our next two points
(mediation and arbitration) come into play. While you may be familiar with the inclusion of mediation and/or arbitration clauses in agreements, it’s highly likely that you’re unfamiliar with the details of each. When it comes to putting these clauses into your agreements, there should be some thought given as to which type of resolution process may be more appropriate and what should be included. In future articles, I’ll provide more details on the two options and what it involved in each. For now, just suffice it to say that you need to make sure that you include some sort of dispute resolution clause in your agreements in order to avoid the potential of our next focus area, litigation, as possible.
When it comes to litigation, this is essentially the worst-case sce- nario. Specifically, we’re talking about the situation where a client is so disgruntled with your products, services, and/or how you’ve treated them that they decide to sue you. Obviously, this is some- thing that we would seek to avoid. It’s at this point where the implementation of legal entities and the limited liability protection that they provide is so important. Sure, legal entities can be tremendously beneficial but only if structured properly as part of an overall asset protection plan.
This leads us back to the part of the process that many people mistakenly believe is the totality of an asset protection planner’s services. While this is certainly part of it, as you can see from the other items listed throughout this article, there’s far more to it. In working with entrepreneurs, small business owners, investors, and others, my team and I help them to go through their processes and identify the areas on which they need to focus and create a solid plan of action for protecting themselves and their businesses. Through articles, I’m going to provide you with some important things that you need to know about making sure that you’re protected as well. I look forward to sharing these essential strategies with you. As always, we stand ready, willing, and able to assist you in doing what it takes to cover your assets.