Calm Your Customer With Basic Counseling Skills
By Mike Cieri, MSIR, Vice President of Mardac Consultants
Last month, we examined “Being aware of your personal perceptions, biases, and reactions”. Today, we’ll look at ways to calm the customer.
The following four-step process can be extremely effective in handling a difficult customer:
- Be aware of your personal perceptions, biases, and reactions.
- Calm the customer with basic counseling skills.
- Diagnose and analyze the situation.
- Work with the customer to develop an action plan for solving the identified problem.
PART 2: Calm the customer with basic counseling skills.
A difficult customer will not behave calmly and rationally until he or she has vented the underlying emotions. Three counseling skills may help you to facilitate this venting and then to establish rapport with the customer.
Maintain a neutral, non-defensive stance. Maintaining neutrality while being verbally attacked is a difficult skill to learn, but it can be managed with practice. The first step is to breathe deeply and slowly from your diaphragm, counting to five as you inhale and again as you exhale. This procedure also allows you enough time to gather your thoughts.
Stay focused on the problem presented and not on the person attacking. Difficult customers tend to use “you” statements, placing blame instead of presenting problems realistically. Resisting the impulse to take such comments personally decreases the probability that you will react defensively.
Understand the customer’s need by actively listening to his or her concerns. Active listening consists of listening carefully to the customer and then responding by paraphrasing the situation, as you understood it. Paraphrasing offers the customer a chance to calm down and realize that he or she was heard accurately.
In some cases active listening itself will solve the problem; some customers want only to vent their frustrations and dissatisfaction.
Reflect the customer’s feelings by empathizing with the emotion presented. For instance, if the customer is angry, an appropriate response might be “I can understand why you’re angry” or “I understand your disappointment.” Using “I” messages is a powerful communication technique that allows you to put yourself in the customer’s place and understand the emotion expressed as well as the problem involved.
When a customer feels personally understood, his or her defensiveness is diminished. Problem analysis and solutions are more likely to occur as the result of an objective (detached) approach rather than a subjective (emotionally invested) approach.
Next month, in Part 3, we will examine strategies to diagnose and analyze the situation.
About the author:
Mike Cieri, MSIR, is Vice President of Mardac Consultants and been in the Human Resource Management field for over 20 years. During this time he has held a variety of management positions, including several years on the executive management team of a large corporation as Vice President of Human Resources and Safety, as well as Vice President of Operations.