Tough Talk: Having Difficult Conversations with Clients

Tough Talk: Having Difficult Conversations with Clients

The farrier industry largely depends on positive word of mouth and horse people are talkers, so a farrier’s livelihood is extra reliant on clients only having great things to say about her or him. That’s fine in fair weather, but things can get stormy pretty quickly when bills don’t get paid, shoes come loose, hooves aren’t shod to a client’s expectations, horses go lame for hoof-related (or frankly, non hoof-related) reasons, prices go up, etc., etc., etc. As a farrier, you need to be able to customer service someone without bending so far backwards you end up hurting yourself. Here’s some advice for when the going gets tough and you need to sit a client down and explain a couple things.

Keep excellent records. If you can show a client exactly what went down when, you’ll make a stronger case for yourself if a dispute arises over money or over work that was done or not done. Likewise, be up front about your policies and procedures when you pick up new clients, with a written statement if needed. You don’t need a contract or anything, but a brief outline of the services you provide and what a client can expect if, say, a shoe gets torn off or they miss a payment, could save you a ton of hassle. Some farriers will put something to this effect up on their facebook page or on their website, just for clients to refer to.

Tough Talk: Having Difficult Conversations with Clients

Put the horse first. Usually the horse will be the client’s first concern, so if you can explain how what you’re doing is better for the animal’s welfare, you’ll be more likely to keep a horse owner on side. You know that your suggestion that a client’s horse wear therapeutic shoes is not a cash grab on your part. Letting that client know that you understand that shoes are expensive but that continuing to ride the horse barefoot down gravel roads will be progressively more painful for the horse will (hopefully) give your idea more traction. If that doesn’t work, framing the therapeutic shoes suggestion as money saved on future vet bills might work.

Try to avoid simple right and wrong statements in a conflict. Be patient and explain why things are being done a certain way, or why you can’t do things a different way. It could be that your client actually doesn’t know that you can’t take all that toe off without ruining the alignment of the hoof and the pastern, or that the shoes a trainer is recommending to “fix” a gait problem will put too much strain on a different area.

Focus on actions and events. Stay away from arguments about what a person or a horse “is” and instead talk about what a person or a horse “did.” Telling someone “your horse is stupid” isn’t going to win you any favour in a heated discussion about the fact that said horse just threw you into a wall. Stupidity is also not something your client can address and fix. Saying “your horse just threw me into a wall and needs better training” is more fact-based, but “better training” is still pretty vague and will likely get an owner’s hackles up without giving them anything productive to do about it. Focusing on actions can help you and your client develop a going forward plan to solve the issue. “Your horse just threw me into a wall, so for the next month can you spend ten minutes a day picking up its feet so this doesn’t happen again” is tough to argue against, and gives your client something manageable to do to make the situation better.

Be specific about the outcomes you’re looking for. Stating your end goals will often help clients realize that you’re both after the same thing. If it turns out you’re not after the same thing, this can still help you communicate to the client that what you want is reasonable. If a client owes you x amount of money but swears they only owe you half of that, letting the clients know that you need the full amount because you can’t risk your business on clients who miss payments will clearly lay out that your priority isn’t this money in particular, but your livelihood, which is completely reasonable. This will put you in a stronger position to negotiate when you have to, i.e. if you need to come up with a payment schedule.

Stay civil. This might be hard. Really hard. By the end of the tough conversation you might not even want the client anymore, but you do want your actions to be above reproach. As a person in the horse community, you know that whatever happens when you and your client fight or break up is bound to be ten times worse in the telling. If the worst a client can say is that you were level-headed, reasonable and courteous, you come out ahead. Of course, that m-i-i-ght not what a client will say if you haven’t been able to reconcile your differences, but if level-headed, reasonable and courteous is how you run your ship, other clients and prospective clients will recognize bad press for what it is.

by: Cindy McMann

image 1: Bureau of Land Management; image 2: barryskeates (Creative Commons BY)

0 comments