Copyright to Andrew Sobel © 2012
Published here September 2012

Editor's Note | Introduction | Dealing with your Customers or Stakeholders 
Personal Predicaments | The End of the Road

Dealing with your Customers or Stakeholders

2.  A potential customer is indifferent or hostile.

Especially in this economy, buyers can afford to be standoffish. The right questions, however, can help you connect with even a defiant prospect. If a potential customer won't engage, consider asking, "What would be the best way for us to spend this time?" or, "I know you are busy - what interested you in taking this meeting? Do you have a particular challenge that we could discuss while I'm here?"

As many companies are still pinching pennies, it's quite possible your customer will say to you, "We have no need for your services now. I'll call you when we do." How should you respond? Try this: "You'd be surprised how many of my best customers said that to me when we first met! Do you mind if I ask you one or two questions? When things do pick up for you, in which areas are you going to make your very first new investments?" If you can follow up with a few more thoughtful questions, you may just start building a relationship - and learn about a current need you can help with!

3.  A customer is unhappy and calls you to complain.

The CEO of a major company told me, "When you have a customer crisis, there is rarely an easy solution - the solution actually lies in how rapidly, energetically, and sincerely you respond to their complaint. The quality of your response is the solution."

Just as surely as the sun rises each morning, you will receive calls from unhappy clients and customers, all of them saying in their own way, "You've let us down!" The first principle to remember is that when people are upset, emotions are like facts. Don't - repeat, don't - start arguing with your customer about what really happened and whose fault it is! An unhappy customer who tells you they are unhappy is a gift, because most dissatisfied customers never express their anger - they just vote with their feet and leave.

Here are some of the key questions you must ask when this happens:

  • "Thank you for raising this with me. Can you tell me any other facts or background information about what happened?"
  • "Can you say more about that?" (This demonstrates your interest and helps explore the problem more deeply.)
  • "How do you think things got to this point?" (This may uncover the origins of the problem, including things the customer may have done to exacerbate it.)
  • "This is extraordinarily important to me. How soon can we meet to discuss the problem and how we can best respond to it?" (This shows the customer he is your number one priority right now.)

And finally, don't forget to apologize!

Few things can make us feel more awkward than a tough conversation. When you find yourself in the midst of one, asking the right questions is a great way to salvage the moment and give yourself breathing room to think. The bonus, of course, is that you'll actually open yourself up to having a very vibrant conversation and will pave the way for a more authentic and productive relationship in the future.

4.  A customer demands a discount.

When a customer asks for a discount, that's a strong "buying signal"! You can shut the conversation down by simply saying "no". Or, you can open up the conversation and learn more about your customer.

You could start by asking, "I'll be able to respond to your request more effectively if I can understand what's behind it. Can you say something about why you need a discount or feel our price is too high?" Next, you might say, "I can reduce the price if the scope of the proposal is also cut back - or if we could agree to a long-term relationship with guaranteed volume levels. Would you like me to develop an option to do this for you?"

By using power questions, you can delve deeper into the customer's needs. You might find another way you can show him the value he wants. In the long term that will be viewed much more positively than a one-time discount and it's a better option than turning him down completely.

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