One of the most challenging things to deal with in business is handling difficult customers who are never satisfied and who continue to change the game as the relationship progresses.
This type of crazy-making scenario can easily place a salesperson on the defensive, making him or her much less effective in negotiations.
When a customer is never satisfied, it's natural for the salesperson to lose motivation for working with this person. Sticking it out requires a strategy for dealing with difficult people, self-restraint and an ability to keep power in the relationship. The sales professional must learn when to be hard and when to be soft in conflict.
1. Listen patiently.
In dealing with a demanding customer, the sales professional should not be forceful. That just blocks negotiation. Instead the salesperson must come across soft and not talk over the difficult customer, even when it's abundantly clear that she is off base.
Let the customer talk herself out. Keep in mind the needier her behavior, the more power the salesperson has since neediness comes from weakness. By listening, the salesperson has the opportunity to build trust, empathy and rapport and it calms down the difficult person.
2. Show empathy.
A salesperson can demonstrate empathy through eye contact, body language and smaller verbal cues showing engagement and concern.
By being empathetic and attuned, the salesperson makes it clear he understands the customer’s concerns. He should repeat back what's being said so the customer can feel that she's being understood.
3. Lower the voice and slow down speech.
If a customer is irate, the salesperson should be quiet amid this aggression. As the customer grows louder, the salesperson should be alert, lower his voice and talk slowly but firmly.
If the sales professional doesn't demonstrate a sense of control, the customer will pick up on fear and go for the jugular.
This strategy shows there's no emergency, the client can relax and whatever she is demanding can be handled efficiently. A salesperson has to keep in mind that emotions are contagious and if he becomes caught up in a customer's emotional chaos, the negotiation will not be productive.
4. Imagine an audience.
It's effective for a salesperson to imagine other customers are in the room observing this interaction as way to keep calm and in charge of the interaction. Imagining an audience completely changes the emotional dynamic for the salesperson.
This simple shift in perspective grants a buffer to keep the salesperson thinking clearly. After all, he wouldn't want the other customers he works with to see him as anything less than stellar. This way when a difficult customer becomes irate or abusive, the sales professional can invoke the “invisible audience” to remain grounded and in top performance mode.
5. Be wrong to be right.
The sales professional should go with the customer's energy. If nothing the professional is doing or saying can satisfy this customer, then he can use the strategy of agreement: surrendering and granting agreement to the difficult customer (even when he's right).
Because this is unexpected, the customer will probably start defending the salesperson. It's a natural behavioral mechanism that when a person is allowed to win that she will start to be more open to what she was fighting against.
This strategy helps makes difficult customers more open to negotiating because now they feel like the negotiation will be on their terms as they are more in sync with the sales professional's position.
6. Demonstrate emotional control.
If the customer swears or becomes abusive, the sales professional should remind himself that anger comes from fear. By pushing aside the anger element and reading between the lines to discern the demanding customer's fears, the salesperson can attend to core issues and not be misdirected by chaos of the surface emotion.
Emotions are contagious, so executing this strategy can be difficult. When the salesperson matches anger with anger, he or she stands to burn bridges.
If the salesperson can train his mind to see anger as fear, he can stay calm and de-escalate the customer's confrontation.
7. It's not personal.
When dealing with an unsatisfied customer, a salesperson needs to remind himself that this is a business issue not a personal one. If the salesperson is being attacked on a personal level, it can trigger him to defend himself and move away from the issue at hand.
But the sales professional should strategize to stick to the facts and stay firm with them. In reality, this customer knows very little about the sales professional on a personal level, so he should keep this in mind and guide the conversation back to the pressing issue and how he intends to solve the problem for the customer, ignoring personal attacks.
Sales professionals should remember they are interacting with human beings not superpowers. Anger is an unintelligent emotion. The greatest strategy for a salesperson is to know his or her own emotions as well as have knowledge about the emotions of others.
When a sales professional knows that the core of anger can be fear, he'll be at an advantage. Angry people typically do not feel their fear because they're lost in their anger. Fear uses anger to gain control. If a sales professional matches anger with anger, a war will ensue and the relationship will be destroyed.
Therefore the salesperson must be a passive yet firm presence against the force used by the difficult customer, reminding himself that the customer feels out of control and is trying to gain control. Angry people have the maturity of a 2-year-old, so the sales professional would be wise to remember the power in remaining calm, flexible, patient and mindful.