Caution Ahead: Getting Through Tricky Customer Interactions

By: Joe Crisara

Let me start by saying I LOVE sports. I believe anybody who is a competitor, is drawn in by those who strive to reach the highest level of a sport they are passionate about.  When playing a professional sport, an athlete would never neglect practice. They would never choose the easiest, low-pressure scenarios as preparation for actual games. They push their bodies beyond the limit and that’s why they are the best. If they only took slow, steady grounders in the infield, they probably wouldn’t win a game or have a job for much longer.

The same scenario applies to contractors in the service business. It’s not the easy, friendly customers that you need to worry about. It’s how you respond to the ones who throw difficult curve balls that separates you from your competition.

Using the strategies below, you can anticipate conversation-stoppers or deal-killers, and break on through to create productive and profitable working relationships with your clients.

They Come By Many Different Names & Games

You will start to notice patterns in the types of frustrating answers that potential clients throw back at you. You can name them and tape those labels to the wall (where no customer would ever see them!) if that helps motivate you and your team. I have certainly noticed these repeat types of objections or challenges you hear from customers on a service call, and I’ve applied my own set of labels to them. I’ll share some of them here:

– The Gatekeeper wants you to tell him all your prices upfront and then he’ll go talk to his wife and get back to you.

– The Apple Buyer got a full proposal from another company and just wants to know your price.

– Mr. Stuck in the Past tells you he had it fixed during the Nixon years for $187 and asks if that’s still the price.

– The Broke Ass just spent a load of money on his gold-lined Jacuzzi and now has nothing left for the house electrical.

– Mystification Man tells you everything’s working fine right now but he just wants to get it checked out.

– The Know-It-All informs you that he’s already figured out exactly what the problem is and that’s all he wants done.

There’s a lot more of these colorful characters but they all really have more in common than not. The good news is that you only have to stick with a small set of simple, strong principles in order to take back control of the interaction and create outcomes worthy of the professional, pure motive service that you and your company are providing.

Listen For Yellow Lights

Listen to what your client is saying or asking for situations that run contrary to doing things the way you’d like to do them…

“Can I get a ballpark price on replacing this before we go to much further?”

Of course giving ballpark prices is the exact opposite of what you want to do.  You want to look at the entire system, create some premium, mid-range and economy choices and then get the work done.  So how on earth do you politely disagree with the client.  The answer is to “shift the focus” on to YOUR way without disagreeing at all.

Lead With Gratitude

Think of those times that you yourself, for whatever reason, were feeling ornery or negative when your spouse dragged you into a store to talk with a sales person. Now remember when one caught you off guard with a warm, genuine display of concern, generosity and appreciation. It is very disarming and it changes the entire interaction. You can’t really be angry or defensive with someone who’s offering you a verbal hug. It takes the negative-attitude wind right out of your sales.

The first thing to do when confronted with a tricky interaction is show your potential customer a tremendous display of gratitude.

“Let me say first of all thank you for the opportunity and for taking the time to meet with me today – I truly appreciate any opportunity to visit with a customer and offer the best service that I can. Again thanks.”

This kind of statement, when said genuinely, will win a lot of goodwill with the customer and open their mind to listening to your advice and your offer.

Your Words Can Be Magic

I call them ‘Magic Moments‘, because they can turn a bang-your-head-against-the-wall situation into an ecstatic customer for life- and they don’t even involve talking about technical issues.  After your show of gratitude, bring up something more personal and general about the person’s life. What they do for work, and how it might dovetail with their home service experience, is usually a good bet…

“Matt, first let me say how thankful I am that you called us to give us the opportunity to help you.  May I share something? (Sure!) Janet and Jeremy are lucky to have a guy like you taking care of this issue by yourself.  The fact that you would take a day off from that to be home to deal with this, shows that you really care about your family.  I’m honored that you’d invite me to help you with this.  Thank you so much.”

This kind of warm, personal interaction, driven by curiosity and respect, is worth a million dollars to most people. You stop being an annoying salesman and you start becoming a friend who happens to be an expert. Put people first, and bountiful service opportunities follow.

The Bridge Between Their World and Yours

After your initial Magic Moment, you can use those words as a bridge to explain your commitment to pure motive service.

“Matt can I ask you something? (Yes.) I saw you teaching Jeremy to read.  Would you want Jeremy to learn reading by doing a ballpark version of the english language or the actual version?” (I see your point…)

You have appealed to the customer’s trust by talking about their integrity and their service, and comparing it to yours.

“You seem like the kind of dad who prides himself on getting the best for your family.  Do I have that right?”  (Of course.)

Suddenly you’re their friend and ally, protecting them, and looking out for their family, their home and their marriage! If a customer gives resistance it probably means there’s a lack of trust, respect and honor and there’s no relationship between you. This will happen if you don’t have any Magic Moments.

Steer Towards Your Direction

Democracy is great, but a lot of important interactions still call for a leader. And you can bet that between you and the customer, the leader should be the trained professional expert who works in the field every day. The customer makes the ultimate choice – you can’t demand they write a check at gunpoint. But you can control the discussion and what the choices are, according to pure motive service, which is always driven by clear information and is beyond reproach.

“Here’s how we do things.  First, I’m going to do a complete inspection of the entire plumbing system.  Then I’m going to give you a full report of the safety and health factors and also any reliability issues I’ve found that have caused to problem in the first place.  After that, I’m going to create some premium, mid-range and economy options that will all include the EXACT investment to get the problems fixed.  I hope that’s okay, because that’s how we do it.”

You’ve been clear, you’ve been fair and you’ve been honest.

It’s Really As Simple As 1-2-3

There are many more very specific role-playing scenarios we could go over, some of which will be covered in other articles of mine. But if all you remember is this simple 3-step rule for difficult customer service interactions, you will be in pretty good shape.

– Show the customer sincere gratitude.

– Tell the customer the direction you’d like to head in terms of service, for achieving the best result for their system and their home.

– If you get static from negative clients, give them a choice between the way you do things or the negative outcome of the dysfunctional way they are proceeding.

If they want to do it the dysfunctional way, they’d have to do it without you. But you’d be happy to do the work the functional way, the only way you do things.

For more information on getting through home service business difficulties and turning obstacles into winning situations, look at our powerful and transformative Total Immersion Sales program.

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