Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wed on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @sueyoungmedia. Susan Young works with businesses who want to increase their publicity, credibility and revenues with public relations and social media. She’s a news and communications expert, and President of Get in Front Communications. She hosts weekly webinars on blogging and newsletter content. She can be reached at www.getinfrontcommunications.com
Smallbizlady: Customers have all different personalities, styles and goals. How can small business owners handle a difficult customer?
Susan Young: I always like to look for similarities and not differences when there is a conflict. If you step back for a moment and ask yourself: “What is happening here?” you can get some sense of where to begin working through a problem. Resolving conflicts requires excellent communication skills and self-confidence.
Smallbizlady: How does self-confidence take a role in costumer communications?
Susan Young: Self-confidence plays a pivotal role in communication and relationships. If you lack self-confidence, your communication skills will be weak and it will be difficult to express your point of view or willingness to amicably resolve a dispute or disagreement.
Smallbizlady: What are some good tips to handling a customer who is difficult?
Susan Young: Listening and empathy are important. You don’t have to agree with them but people don’t like to be ignored. They want to know their complaint or opinion is being heard. Allow them express themselves without passing judgment or criticizing. Listen with an open mind and a genuine interest in helping. Avoid getting “stuck” in the problem.
Smallbizlady: Many conflicts occur over money or a client trying to get you to eat endless change orders. How should that be handled?
Susan Young: The terms of any agreement regarding time spent, scope of project, deliverables and guarantees should be clearly written in a contract so that this situation can be avoided. Each scenario and customer is different. You have to determine how the project and your relationship has evolved. You may have to eat an hour or two of your time to “go the extra mile” and then decide not to take on future projects with this customer. That’s often a better way than having an unhappy customer leave with bad words to spread. You have to decide what it’s worth.
Smallbizlady: How does Emotional Intelligence (EQ) play into communicating with difficult customers?
Susan Young: Emotional Intelligence is critical in all of our interpersonal relationships. It addresses compassion, empathy, assertive communication and rapport. Strong leaders and excellent communicators tend to have high levels of EQ. Start to watch people you admire and how they handle difficult situations. Pay attention to their language, demeanor and attitude.
Smallbizlady: Is it possible for me to get more in tune with difficult customers?
Susan Young: Paying attention to verbal cues and clues can be very helpful in bridging communication gaps. We communicate through our senses or modalities. People are generally visual communicators, auditory communicators or kinesthetic communicators.
For example, a visual person would say, “I am so mad with this product; don’t you see what I mean; it’s broken.” Or they may say, “Look here, I want to get this resolved right away.” The words look and see are your clues that they are visual. If your difficult customer complains, “This doesn’t sound like the sale price, I want a refund”, then they are more auditory (sound). Someone who is more kinesthetic may complain, “I don’t feel like I’m getting a bargain; I want a refund.” The word feel is your clue. The key is to respond in their modality so you are both speaking the same language. If the customer is visual and you respond in an auditory modality, it’s as if you are speaking a foreign language, which makes communication a real challenge. Once you connect with them in the right modality, you’ll be able to build rapport and ease the tension.
Smallbizlady: Is there a strategy I can use so I don’t fly off the handle at someone?
Susan Young: I like the “P-R-R” method, which is Pause, Reflect, and Respond. It allows the other person to completely finish their sentence and requires you to pause for just a second or two, quickly digest what was said and then respond in a mature and deliberate way. You don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction.
Smallbizlady: How do you handle a cross email from a client?
Susan Young: Get on the phone immediately and resolve it. Communication often gets misconstrued or misunderstood with technology so I would avoid replying with another e-mail. A live conversation can only take a few minutes and can help to smooth things over.
Smallbizlady: What is the difference between a reaction and a response?
Susan Young: A reaction is more knee-jerk and doesn’t require any thought. You’re on auto-pilot. For example, if you are in a restaurant and the waitress asks if you would like a salad or hamburger for lunch, a reaction is you automatically choose one. A response would be you ask a question: “Is that a cheeseburger?” or “Does the burger come with French Fries?” “Is the salad a chef salad?” You spend a moment carefully contemplating your best choice and gathering information before rendering a decision.
Smallbizlady: What if the angry customer is ranting for a long time; should I interrupt?
Susan Young: I would try my best to let them finish without interrupting. If they are going on and on, you can politely and calmly interject with a validating statement such as, ” I see that you are very upset” (use a word or phrase that they have used to describe their feeling) and “I really want to help.” Try to refocus them to stay on message by asking, “How would you like to see this resolved?” or “Can you tell me one thing that I can do to make this better for you?”
Smallbizlady: What if my difficult customer is completely unreasonable?
Susan Young: You have options but they depend on damage control. I have fired some customers after realizing that no matter what I do, they will not be happy. Understand what their expectations are and if there is a disconnect between what they expect and what you can deliver or provide. You should also consider your reputation. Sending a disgruntled customer out your door can impact future sales and your reputation. Consider who this person knows and if they may carry a grudge or vendetta. To me, this is a last resort.
Smallbizlady: If we can’t quickly agree on a resolution to the problem, what should I do?
Susan Young: Simply ask the person, “What would make you happy so we can resolve this amicably; what would you like me to do?” That’s usually a good starting point for progress.
Here’s a link to my blog post from September on Managing Difficult Customers.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
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