I admit it. I am making a pretty outrageous claim in the title of this blog. And I know the CarolRoth.com audience of really smart business owners well enough that many of you are saying, “This Gallagher guy obviously has never met some of *my* worst customers!”
But please bear with me. I make a living helping people (25,000 and counting so far) handle their very worst customer situations. And you don’t realize it, but probably 98% of them are actually a dance with two partners. The only control you have is over your own dance steps. Change them, and you can resolve many of these situations peacefully – and profitably.
I realize that clients and customers are often angry, rude, demanding, narcissistic, and unreasonable. And let’s presume, for sake of argument, that they always start the problem. Here is where you come in: human nature is designed so most of us say exactly the wrong things in response. Then you and your customer are off to the races. So let’s look at what can go wrong, and how you can fix it:
1. You don’t know how to acknowledge them. I mean this in the nicest possible way. You have no clue how to acknowledge people. How do I know this? Because when I teach training programs, the number of people who do this well is usually approximately No One. (And most of the exceptions turn out to be trained therapists, mediators, and the like.)
So here’s the deal: acknowledging people, even when you violently disagree with them, will usually calm them down and start a productive discussion. You do this by observing their thoughts and feelings, validating their right to feel that way, or identifying with them in some way.
Don’t know how to do this in the heat of the moment? Start your sentence with, “Absolutely!”
“Absolutely! Of course you want me to meet this impossible deadline for half my normal rate. Budgets are tight, and you are under a lot of time pressure. Makes perfect sense to me. Now here is what I CAN do for you …”
2. You try to “educate” them. You try to explain to Mr. Rotten Customer why he is wrong, and why you are right. He then responds exactly the same way your teenage children would. Then you keep pouring more gasoline on the fire and wonder why it isn’t working.
The best way to tell someone they are wrong is to tell them they are right. Really. I’ll spare you the psycholinguistics, but let’s look at an example. Suppose you run a tree care business (a group I just spoke to last month), and a customer says, “My uncle Charlie could do this for half price with a chainsaw and a pickup truck!”
Most trained arborists would say, “(Snort!) We are trained arborists! Here is why using uncle Charlie is a really bad idea …” Here is what I would say: “Uncle Charlie is actually a really good idea for some people. Sometimes, when people have no money, he is their only option. Now, here are some of the benefits of using a professional arborist (not having your pants sued off when uncle Charlie falls from the tree, not trashing your property…).” Same message, but with a little instant credibility sprinkled in up front.
3. You don’t know when to give up. An old joke has someone complaining bitterly about cleaning up after the elephants at the circus – but when asked about getting another job he replies, “What? And quit show business?”
Some customers are just plain nasty, impossible, or the wrong fit for you. But you want their revenue badly enough that you won’t quit show business. Use your very best communication skills with everyone, but know when to cut your losses and fire a truly toxic client.
The bottom line? If you run a business, difficult customers are inevitable. But by making a few strategic changes to the words you use and the choices you make, you can make a real difference in your stress level AND your bank account.
So how do you handle difficult customers? Do you use any other tactics? Please share in the comments below.