How to Defuse an Unhappy Chamber Member

We’ve all been there: a members calls, frustrated or even angry about something that happened, and he blames the chamber. Often, it’s not your fault, but that’s the last thing your member wants to hear right then.

No chamber can function without members, but when this happens regularly, it can make you want to quit. That’s true whether you run a small chamber and work with many members directly, or if you work for a larger chamber.

To put things into perspective, member freakouts are a common problem at chambers. Most chambers experience at least a few members freakouts per year.

Remember that this is about them, not you.

The first step is to recognize that this is about them, not you. If they’ve reached out, this is your opportunity to save the day.

People who complain put in the effort to register their opinions, which is much better than the silent frustration and apathy of the unimpressed.

Focus on helping them feel heard, helping them calm down, and figuring out how you can resolve things. An unhappy member is 50% more likely to share about their experience than a happy member — so do your best to turn things around.

Talk to your member via voice.

Shift the conversation from email (or text message or social media) to an in person visit or phone call as soon as possible. You’ll have fewer miscommunications and you can adjust what you say as the conversation unfolds.

If a member cold calls you without notice to unload about a problem, take notes to keep track of what he said. And if he calls and leaves a voicemail, call him back the same day.

Don’t interrupt — let them vent their concerns.

People want to feel heard — so if a member calls sounding upset, let him talk. If you interrupt him, he’ll get more frustrated.

Take notes on what the member shares, since you’ll want to recap his concerns later in the call.

Act quickly.

The longer you wait, the more likely your member is going to jump to the worst conclusion — that you don’t care about his problem, and he should consider quitting your chamber (or worse).

You may not be able to solve the problem immediately, but you should demonstrate you’re taking it seriously by sharing the timeline for what you’re going to do next. Even an interim answer is fine, such as: “I’m going to speak with the team right now to see what happened and how we’re going to fix this.”

Acting promptly can de-escalate problems. After some issues at a recent event, I called and emailed people who complained on the post-event survey. Almost everyone responded to thank me for the follow up — and then said the problem wasn’t as bad as they originally thought.

Validate their feelings.

The member is calling, in part, to confirm you see this as a problem, too. Even if it’s not your fault, he thinks — for now — that it is your fault. Denying responsibility just makes him more annoyed.

You can validate his feelings without admitting responsibility. I suggest using phrases like, “That sounds frustrating” or “I’d be frustrated, too.”

Validation includes recapping his concern later in the call. This shows him you were paying attention, and it makes your frustrated member feel more confident that you’re going to fix this.

Don’t jump to assign blame… but recognize this might be your chamber’s fault.

Often, your member is freaking out about something your chamber did do. Maybe an employee was rude to him. Maybe you promised something by a particular deadline, but things slipped through the cracks, and now the member is upset.

If it’s your chamber’s fault, you definitely need to fix it. Instead of jumping to a solution, ask what he wants.

Listen carefully, and take notes.

Practice active listening — listening, demonstrating you listened, and asking follow up questions to show you want to fully understand the issue.

If you have time before the call, open a document to type notes on what your member says. If a member calls you to freak out, take notes on whatever you can. But don’t let note-taking distract you from active listening.

Ask for their ideal outcome.

Don’t assume you know what they want. You won’t know what they want as an ideal outcome until you ask. Often, unhappy members request less than you’d be willing to give them. And if they demand more, you can always tell them you need to regroup and will follow up.

Let them know you’ll follow up shortly (and then do it).

You probably can’t resolve every problem during the initial call — that’s OK, but be sure to give members an estimate on when they’ll hear back from you.

Get additional information from your team to know what happened.

Odds are that you don’t know all the details of what went wrong. Once you’ve calmed the member down and promised to follow up, ask your team what happened.

Your goal is to piece together a picture of what happened — the specific problem as well as the cause. You’ll use this information to follow up with the member.

Update your member on the plan from there.

Based on what you find, let your member know your plan to fix things — based on his ideal outcome and what you’re willing to do.

Sometimes you’ll find your chamber had nothing to do with the freakout. In that case, point him to the appropriate resource. Since he is a valued member, it may be worth doing some of the legwork for him.

If you can’t fix what caused the freakout in one step, keep your member updated. This is one of the few times you shouldn’t delegate things — if you’re the person who handled the initial call, you should “own” communication with the member until he is satisfied with the outcome. If the member has to re-explain things to someone new, it’s just going to frustrate him further.

Later, discuss how to prevent similar situations in the future.

Above-average chambers are committed to continuous improvement. This means learning from your mistakes — and from your successes. Do a debrief with your team (three simple questions: what worked, what didn’t work, and what to do differently next time).

Are you seeing a pattern behind several member freakouts? In my experience, most chamber problems are symptoms of a larger systems failure. If your member freakouts are caused by systems problems, you need to fix the system to stop the freakouts.

Share this process with your team so they can start solving problems before they get to you.

Coach your team on handling problems themselves. Once you do this, the less you’ll get sucked into solving things every time. It’s part of making yourself “irrelevant” as a chamber leader.

If you don’t trust your employees to handle problems themselves, they’ll never take responsibility for solving the problems. Talk through how you handle member freakouts, and let your employees listen-in as you solve issues with unhappy member.

It may not happen overnight, but you’ll make life easier for yourself — and help your employees grow.

Posted on July 14, 2016