December is a wonderful time of year. But it can also be a time of high stress. Organizations struggle to get everything done before the holidays. Employees try to balance the surge in social commitments while continuing to take actions to meet budgets. Systems and processes are strained by increased demands caused by weather, quotas or any other number of things.
It is a time of year when systems and circumstance combine to create a stress-fuelled environment of tension and possible conflict. To help your field team deal with customers effectively in these stressful times, consider the following five approaches. This will help your team maintain good relations and build higher levels of trust and remind your customers why they chose to do business with you in the first place.
Connect with the customer.
Whenever stressful situations arise, it is critical for our customers to realize that they have our full attention. We can demonstrate this by connecting with the customer. By connecting, we mean giving our customer our full attention. That means putting things down, standing if appropriate, exhibiting open body language, making eye contact and actively listening.
It is also important to show a sense of urgency in our motions and our body stance (leaning slightly forward). Connecting with the customer in this way shows we are taking the situation seriously and interested in getting the problem resolved.
Acknowledge the situation.
We can remove some of the customer’s stress and concerns by showing them that we understand. We can do this in a number of ways. For example, the problem being experienced is having a significant and detrimental impact on production. We could say something like, “I can see why this is so upsetting for you, particularly given the pressures you must be facing from production to get this up and running.” You might even say, “I can understand how stressful this must be for you, I would feel the same way, if I were in your shoes.”
Notice that I am not suggesting that we take responsibility for the problem. We are simply acknowledging the situation that the customer is in. This continues to build upon the trust that started when we “connected” with the customer.
Explain your reasons from the customer’s perspective.
When we have to say “no”, we can explain our reasons from the customer’s perspective rather than our own. Let’s say the customer wants us to make a temporary fix that we feel will be unsafe. The customer is adamant that it be done and we have to say “no”.
Rather than say something like “I can’t do that. It’s unsafe and it could get me in serious trouble. We will have to think of something else”, it would be better to say “no” from the customer’s perspective. For example, we could say, “Unfortunately, this suggestion could prove unsafe and I would not want to put you or your tenants in harm’s way. There are other options that we can consider, such as …”
Give the customer’s motives the benefit of the doubt.
It is vitally important that we take every customer request as a request for which they feel they are entitled to (or willing to pay for) and not an attempt to take advantage of us. This is important because it is our perspective that will largely govern how we respond. If we feel that the customer is “always” trying to take advantage, then our response may not be balanced and unlikely to set the stage for cooperation.
If we have the perspective that the customer is innocently asking for something that they feel they are entitled to or are willing to pay for, then our response will likely be more empathetic and geared toward establishing a foundation for collaboration. Instead of saying, “Sorry, that’s not in the contract. If you want me to do that, you will need to call the office and give them a P.O.”, you might consider something like, “I want to make sure that I am fair to both your company and my own. What you are asking is not in the existing contract. Here is what I suggest we do to get this addressed …”.
Now I know that there really are customers out there that are regularly trying to take advantage, but does it hurt to respond to them the same way as we would to a customer with an innocent request?
Have alternative suggestions ready.
If we do have to say “no” to a request or tell the customer bad news, we will help keep the situation calm and provide value by having alternative suggestions ready. Imagine a scenario where our technician tells the customer that the equipment has failed and when asked what the alternatives are simply says, “I don’t know. I will have to look into it.” As the customer, how comfortable would we feel about the technician’s response? What does it tell us about the technician’s understanding of our situation?
It would be better if the technician has an answer that includes two or three alternatives that can be taken and then help us decide which option make the best sense under the circumstances. It would be better still if the technician has made a couple of phone calls and can give even more information such as price and delivery of the various options.
December is a wonderful time of year and also one full of stress and possible conflict. We can help our technicians through this period of stress and the inevitable interpersonal challenges that they will face with just a few simple approaches. It is a timely gift for the month of December that can be used throughout the year.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can connect with me via telephone or email or leave a comment right here on the site. And as always, please feel free to leave a link back to your own blog if you have one via the commentluv feature here on the site. If you are reading this blog post via email, you will need to locate this post on my website by clicking here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you will find the comment section.
Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response
to what happens. And response is something we can choose.
– Maureen Killoran
 Arms uncrossed, legs comfortably apart, eye contact, etc.