Dealing with difficult customers can be a huge and frustrating challenge, one of the common questions I am asked, and one I am sure you can relate to is:
“how do you deal with a customer who is standoffish, and won’t open up?”
(Don't have time to read? Check out the short video at the bottom of this blog).
This type of customer, client or colleague is tough work, it can put you on the defence, make you feel on edge and ultimately impact how effective you are as a communicator, you are left feeling powerless, wondering how you could of dealt with the situation differently.
I constantly find myself faced with this type of person when I am performing my show. Walking out on stage and calling myself a Mind Reader, has an immediate effect of instantly sending people in to a skeptical state, they lean back fold their arms tightly and have an attitude of ‘Go on then prove it!’
Being in a live show setting I have to work fast in getting these people to open up and get them onside, failing to do this will either result in a very awkward performance or in worse case scenario it will cause part of the show to go wrong.
The most common traits of a challenging customer are:
-Closed body language (e.g tightly folded arms),
-Leaning away (distancing behaviour),
-Zero emotion in the face (stonewalling),
-They won’t answer questions or provide much information.
If you are in the world of sales this type of person is your nemesis, they will send waves of fear through your body, you will feel the anxiety rapidly building, the problem here is your discomfort will start to show through which, if your stonewalling opponent picks up on will give them even more power.
The other reaction you may have with difficult customers is to go on the attack, the frustration of not being able to get through can become overwhelming and before you know whats happening, that inner irritation has made its way to the external world, causing tempers to fly and heels to dig in even deeper.
Luckily for you, my consistent interaction with skepticism has taught me a few practical techniques to deal with challenging customers and difficult clients.
#1 Stay Calm.
First up and this is SO important, you have to stay calm. The moment you think to yourself ‘I got a tough one here’ do not panic; this is the moment when that little voice inside your head will normally start swearing, hurling abuse and telling you ‘you’re stuffed’. Do not let panic take over, this will lead you on the express train to failure. You must turn the inner voice volume down, take a breath and centre yourself.
#2 Try To Understand.
Think to yourself what could this person is resisting? What could they be scared of? What are they unsure of? Are they unsure of the product or could they be unsure of you? Allow yourself to be curious, doing this will encourage you to be more open and relaxed.
#3 Break Their State.
The way that we use our bodies effects they way that we think and feel, this means your typical difficult customer is using body language that influences them to think in a closed and skeptical way. If you can break their state by changing the way they are using their body, you stand a good chance of changing the way they think and feel. One easy way to do this is get them to move, this could be give them a catalogue or product to hold (if they have crossed arms this forces them to unfold), or get them to look at something on the other side of the office, where they will have to physically move.
#4 Break Their Thought Pattern.
This is a classic technique and one of my favourites (I am consistently using this when my kids are having meltdowns). Throw in a curveball non threatening question to interrupt their thought pattern, something as simple as ‘what plans have you got for the weekend?’ or ‘did you see that story on the news about xyz?’
Try and make this question or comment something that will cause them to think, and not just be a passing comment.
When you are dealing with difficult customers firstly stay calm, then find a way to change the way they are using their body and interrupt their thinking pattern.
Example Of Dealing With A Difficult Customer.
A part of my presentation involves a person on stage who is going to make series of decisions, leading to an impossible outcome that I have predicted ahead of time.
The person on stage is totally random, they are normally chosen by the audience; in every corporate event their is normally that one person who everyone knows is the joker, the person who will test the mind reader and be a difficult customer, 80% of the time this is the person who will be volunteered to come up on stage.
I can tell instantly as they approach the stage if this person is going to be a challenge,
The first thing I will do is centre myself, I don’t let panic take over. Once they are on stage I will shake their hand find out their name and have a warm, open attitude towards them. My next move is to point out that I can tell they are going to be a challenge - this is done tongue and cheek) - and will normally get a laugh from not only them but also everyone in the audience. Sometimes this can be enough to break down the wall, if not then I will instantly deploy the next phase.
Even if they are stood in the right place I will purposefully get them to move to a different point on the stage. This will get them to physically change the way they are using their body. Sometimes it can be as subtle as asking them to stand on the other side of me.
Not only does this change the way they are using their body it also sets them up to start conforming with my instructions.
I will ask them a random question, normally its a question like ‘who are you here with today’ or ‘who are you sat with’. Asking this question interrupts their thinking pattern, also (and this bit is where I get really clever) it will cause them to point towards the audience, which opens up their body language, as they will have to gesture to show me who they are there with.
I will hand them a prop, normally a pen or the microphone, again this will open up their body language and because they are following my instructions they are once again conforming.
As they are about to make the decisions that will lead to my impossible prediction, I will ask if they understand and if they are ready, this sets them up to say yes and again puts them into conforming mode.
I will keep repeating various phases throughout the interaction on stage, all of the above happens in the space of a couple of minutes or less.
I have been faced with some VERY difficult customers on stage, sometimes entire audiences have been a challenge, and I would say that there have only ever been a small handful that I haven’t been able to crack, I am not saying this to try and make inflate my ego or make myself sound almighty; want I want to drive home, is that as long as you stay calm and use simple tools and techniques even the most difficult customer can be won over.
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Thank you for reading.
Anthony Laye - Behaviour Expert / Mentalist / Speaker
Want Anthony to speak at your next event? Please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org