We were going to lose millions and I couldn't think of a way to solve the problem. This was my first thought when a multimillion dollar client threatened to pull up stakes. We were a small organization and if this client left we would sink.
In this oh $hit moment rather than fleeing from the building and shouting "we're going down!," I pulled my employee in charge of the account into my office and began asking questions.
The already highly agitated employee on the receiving end of my questions was visibly shaking during what I like to call "the interrogation." The line of questions had nothing to do with the employee's abilities, instead I asked about the client's demands. I sympathized that the asks were far-fetched and outright ridiculous in some cases. I did this is because I needed to understand not only the data sharing going on but the emotions behind it.
Taking this information I decided to ask for an impromptu meeting with the client. No one knew I was doing this in my company, a dangerous cowboy move. There was a good chance I was losing my job. If this was the death of the company, I wanted to build my own coffin.
I started by apologizing for being a poor communicator. If they didn't like what they were receiving then I viewed this as my failing and fell on the sword.
I asked if they could walk me through their ideal reporting and communication structure. I also explained that I had a giant white board in front of me and, if they didn't mind, I would put them on speaker and write out their request to build the plan while we spoke.
After a two hour conversation we captured and agreed upon each data point, it's function and how it should be delivered. The new system was put into place within 24 hours of meeting. A note from the client calling off the dogs made it's way to the higher ups. They were happy.
Every item the pissed off clients asked for they had already been receiving but they didn't know how to read the information. By having them weigh in on the report and simply change a few column headings and the days the data flowed to them all was solved.
This interaction taught me that asking questions and truly caring about the answer can have a dramatic effect on buy-in in any relationship.
Do your customers feel heard? Do your employees?