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CUSTOMER SERVICE

Customer Service: How to Handle Pushy Customers

Don't let your company get backed into a corner by a cascade of demands. Here's how to strike a deal that satisfies everyone.

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I watched this interchange at a friend's house between a mom and a 4-year-old child:

"Sweetie, it's not time for cookies.
"Sweetie, leave the cookie jar alone.
"Sweetie, I mean it, I don't want you eating a cookie right now.
"Sweetie, please put that cookie back.
"Sweetie, don't take a bite of that cookie, or mommy is going to be cross.
"Ok sweetie, just that one, but no more ..."

I'm no child specialist–but I think almost everyone can agree that this is not a successful way to change behaviors in our children. Common sense tells us that in raising your children and creating effective relationships, you need to:

  • Set clear boundaries
  • Be consistent
  • Mean what you say
  • Have direct and logical consequences

When we're talking about kids, this all seems obvious. But I often see companies managing (or, rather, mismanaging) pushy customers the same way. They cajole, try to delay or deflect, even threaten, but then finally concede. And what happens next time? Two cookies.

There's a better way to handle the situation. Here's what to do.

1. Set expectations.

Too often, pushy customers keep pushing because the lines are not clear enough. You can be service-oriented while at the same time being very specific about what you can and cannot do.  Set the expectation up front.

2. Reset expectations at each interaction.

When a pushy customer asks for something unreasonable, outside of an agreement or even impossible, it is your responsibility to re-assert the original expectations. The old adage applies: If you give someone an inch, they'll take a mile. Obviously, even a 4-year-old can figure out how to take advantage.

3. Aim for parity when going outside of the original understanding.

There are times that you will need to make concessions to appease or serve a pushy customer. However, if all you do is what they ask when they have pushed back, you will have trained them to push harder.

Instead, ask for a concession from them as a part of the interaction–maybe a rush charge, or a limit to the number of unpaid revisions, or a volume purchase thresholds for free shipping. They will learn that simple bullying does not change the agreement.

4. Don't threaten.

Threatening a client takes you down a dangerous road. Instead of working through a point  of friction you have now elevated this to a power struggle, causing long-term damage to the relationship.

Customers believe that they have power because they have the money, so they will begin to either threaten back or plot to replace your services–eventually if not sooner. You want to avoid that. So rather than raising threats, seek instead to offer trade-offs and options.

5. Keep records.

This is about clarity and accuracy, as well as protecting yourself. In the future, when the event is less clear in your memory, you want to be able to return all interested parties to the agreements, expectations and tradeoffs.

Pushy customers can be managed, but if you do not set the standard with a firm and fair hand, you might as well just hand them the plate of cookies–and a stool for easier access later.

Last updated: May 25, 2012

Author, speaker, and consultant TOM SEARCY is the foremost expert in large account sales. With Hunt Big Sales, he has helped clients land more than $5 billion in new sales. Click to get Searcy's weekly tips, or to learn more about Hunt Big Sales.
@tomsearcy




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