When most people think about negotiation, the image that most likely pops into their minds is that of hammering out terms in a sales or business transaction. They probably don’t think about it as a means of protecting their assets. However, negotiation is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your business and assets are protected from the potentially devastating effects of a disgruntled customer or client.
Over the last few months, I’ve been writing articles for Traces magazine on the topic of asset protection. Taking a different approach from what is traditionally viewed as asset protection strategy, I’ve focused more on how to protect assets by avoiding lawsuits. Since many of the lawsuits that online marketers face are initiated by customers and/or clients who are dissatisfied with a product or service, it’s imperative that proper practices are put into place to discourage those lawsuits from ever being filed. To reiterate the areas of focus for this type of asset protection, they are:
As I’ve mentioned above, this month’s focus will be on the impor- tance of negotiation as a means of protecting assets.
In negotiation, the primary focus often becomes all about getting as much as one can from the other party while giving as little as possible. This may sound rather obvious but it’s not necessarily the best approach to take. This type of negotiation is rather competitive and can come across as being a bit combative in practice. When the other party feels like you are trying to get too much from them or giving them too little, it often happens that they become a bit unhappy with the encounter. As a result, they may feel that they are getting the short end of the stick or that they are being taken advantage of. If this is the case, we haven’t done ourselves any favors in accomplishing the entire objective that we’re talking about here: discouraging potential lawsuits or other retributive action.
In my experience, most customers who are unhappy with a product or a service simply want to feel like they have been treated fairly. For some, the only solution that will satisfy them is a full refund of the money that they’ve paid for that product or service. For others, they may be happy for the company to keep the money as long as they get some sort of additional products or services. Still others simply want to be heard and made to feel that their opinion matters and that sale can be saved by merely paying them some attention. These three scenarios yield far different outcomes. It’s up to us as marketers to figure out which of these potential solutions may be the most appropriate.
To do that, we need to begin by opening a dialogue with the customers to gather information and get more details about what it is that they are seeking.
We need to ask ourselves, “what is it that they are wanting?” Many times, customers may begin the dispute process by staking a position that they believe that they should fight for. For instance, they may say that their position is that the product or service doesn’t work and that they want their money back.
In reality, however, they may still be in a position where they are looking for a solution to a problem that they are experiencing and were hoping that the product or service that they purchased would solve it for them. By getting their money back, the problem still remains and they still need a solution. One approach that we can take is to provide them with additional options that may adequately address their interests. Of course, this will not always work but it certainly might.
The difference in this type of approach from the more competitive one mentioned earlier is that it is focused on collaboration. The desired outcome here is that the two parties are working together on an agreement that can meet both of their interests without making things more adversarial. For the customer or client, their interest is that they need a solution to the problem. For the marketer, their interest is to save the sale, save the customer, and potentially save themselves from the fallout that may result if the situation gets ugly and results in a legal challenge. Both parties have a desire to have their interests met.
In facing this type of situation, one of the things that negotiators need to consider is what is referred to as their “BATNA” (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Simply put, what must be contemplated here is to identify the best potential outcome should the parties not be able to come to an agreement as a result of their negotiation efforts.
In the above scenario, the customer may think that their BATNA is that they can call their credit card company and request a chargeback for the purchase. What they have to consider is
whether or not this is really the outcome that best meets their interests rather than seeking an outcome through negotiation. For the company, they may think that simply giving the customer their money back and getting them out of their lives may be better than working to come to some sort of reconciliation only to have to deal with more dissatisfaction and/or complaining from that customer down the road. Their consideration is whether the customer is really worth saving or if they would rather just get rid of them without working through negotiation efforts.
I know that some of the thought process and theory contemplated in this strategy may sound like common sense. What I’ve learned in my years of working with clients is that the adage “common sense is not so common” is absolutely true.
While I can provide guidance to my clients as to the best way to handle difficult situations, they often allow their emotions to control their actions. I’ll fully admit, this happens to all of us at times. However, if we can take a step back and try to observe the situation objectively, we position ourselves to make much better decisions.
Negotiation is a central part of business. Perhaps more accurately, negotiation is a central part of life.
The approach that we take in dealing with disputes can greatly alter the outcomes.
By focusing on interests rather than positions, by being collaborative rather than combative, and by considering our BATNA, we are much more likely to achieve success in our interactions with others.
In my law practice and educational training programs, I work with clients on ways that they can protect themselves through the implementation of strategies such as this. Rather than simply re- lying on the protection provided by legal entities, I always focus on mitigating the challenges through alternative dispute resolution strategies as well. Through the various educational trainings and professional services that my company and I provide, clients and students can learn and implement important strategies for covering their assets. To learn more, visit my website at www.jjchilders.com.