Customer Experience News & Trends

Secrets to mastering customer confrontation

It happens with new prospects and old customers: Someone says something you find offensive. But no matter how you’re provoked, it’s never a good idea to get drawn into a confrontation that may cost you a valuable customer. 

Let it pass

Sometimes silence is the best reply to a challenging remark. Stay quiet and offer a quizzical glance that shows you don’t think the negative comment merits a response. You have control over at least 75% of how prospects and customers relate to you. Before you respond, try to identify the five types of people who say the wrong thing for a variety of reasons.

  • The spoiler for an argument. These people always have the proverbial chip on their shoulders. A good strategy is to tend to agree, but don’t say anything that supports an invalid claim.
  • The critic. Try to turn their criticism into a positive.
  • The blamer. Concentrate on fixing the problem, then spread the blame out.
  • The puppeteer. These people erect roadblocks and manipulate others. It might be a good strategy to turn the whole issue over to them and have them untangle the barriers they’ve erected.
  • The complainer. Try to replace negative thoughts with positives ones.

Use the Comeback R-List

Use these “R” techniques to come up with effective responses:

  • Reframe. Adopt a different perspective.
  • Rephrase. Offer better wording.
  • Revisit. Recall a past success and suggest using it as a model.
  • Restate. Ask the person to clarify or repeat the intended message.
  • Request. Pose a question to change the prospect’s flow.
  • Rebalance. Shift the power.
  • Reorganize. Restart the discussion at a better place or cut to a different issue.

Questions to ask yourself

Here are questions to ask yourself before trying to answer a challenging comment:

  1. How much do you care about this relationship?. If it’s a major customer, respond in a way that doesn’t undermine the relationship.
  2. To what extent is the offense purposeful? Prospects and customers say many negative things without thinking. They may be pushy, impulsive or rude.
  3. Did you contribute to the negative comment? Did you somehow provoke that response? What are you communicating? Should you change your approach?
  4. Is your credibility on the line? If someone attacks your credibility, you have to make a comeback that is in your comfort zone and saves the relationship whenever possible.
  5. Are you inserting yourself into the response too much? If you say “I” or “me” you may make the problem personal. To boost your comeback’s effectiveness, try not to discuss your feelings, but do discuss your observations.
  6. Does the prospect or customer know what to expect of you? Try not to be predictable. Doing or saying something unexpected that is appreciated can have a big impact, if you don’t go overboard.
  7. What does your gut instinct tell you? Watch the other person’s body language for subtle signals.
  8. Can you live with the outcome? If your comeback will increase your problems, change the topic and remain silent.

Adapted from: Comebacks at Work, by Kathleen Reardon and Christopher Noblet. Reardon is a professor at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California. Noblet is a writer and editor.

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