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We have all heard the old adage, “The customer is always right.” While it’s a concept that is usually tied to customer service mantras and operational handbooks, the reality is often quite different. Even though the customer can be blatantly wrong or completely over the top with their demands, your business requires that you communicate effectively with the person. There are very few people who are inherently difficult. Rather, you are generally faced with a rational person and a difficult situation. And that is something you can deal with…

Don’t fire a client when the going gets tough. Instead, consider these steps:

  1. Listen patiently. And listen some more. Actively listening begins with you closing your mouth. Simply put, stop talking. It then requires reflecting back on what the client is saying and asking questions to continue the dialogue. Actively listen until the person feels heard. It does not matter that you “get it”; your client probably doesn’t feel like you do. If your client keeps repeating themselves, that’s an indication that they feel like you don’t “get it” nor are listening. Listening is a rare gift. Only after your client feels heard, will they be willing to partner with you to address the situation.
  2. Accept what the individual says, even if you believe it’s wrong. The angry client believes they are right and this is the most important perception to them. If you accept what they are saying is true, and they feel that you in fact understand their problems, they will further disarm and relax. In turn, they are more likely to get to the real issue. Know that the major problem or bone of contention is usually saved for absolutely last—the secondary or supporting gripes usually get aired first.
  3. Be empathetic. It’s likely that the client is being difficult because they feel slighted or overlooked. They are angry and believe that this is the only way to get their complaints heard. Put yourself in the person’s shoes. How would you feel if a product or service didn’t work the way it was supposed to? Employing some empathy will put you on the client’s side, and they are going to look at you like an advocate or an ally. Empathy should not be used as a way to get them to stop talking. Again, they need to feel heard.
  4. Once your client feels heard is the first moment you can speak. Speak in a calm voice. If you use an understanding and warm tone, it will help calm your client down and convey that you take their situation seriously. Simple statements made with good intentions like, “Okay, just calm down,” can make an angry person irate. Don’t patronize or talk down to the individual. In addition, speaking in a calm voice enables a client to hear difficult messages.
  5. After you employ the first four steps, it’s time to negotiate towards a solution. By now the client in a difficult situation will have dropped their aggression and believes that you are willing to help them out. Propose a solution that is fair and honest.
  6. Generate a mutually acceptable solution. Listen to their reaction to your proposed solution. Stay aware of your language and use phrases like, “We are going to solve this together,” or “What would you consider a reasonable solution?” If the person is a rational individual, and most people are, and you have successfully completed steps one through five, chances are you can come up with a mutually acceptable solution. Ask the client if they feel satisfied with your solution. If they say no, or push back a lot, then you have missed something, or they don’t feel heard. It is time to go back to Step 1…

If you want to discuss a situation you are facing or want more information about the JP Kantor Consulting team, please visit www.JPKantor.com.