I recently finished a book called How to Deal with Difficult Customers: 10 Simple Strategies for Selling to the Stubborn, Obnoxious, and Belligerent
by Dave Anderson. The focus of the book is how to sell to ‘SOB’ (Stubborn, Obnoxious or Belligerent) Customers but many of his words of wisdom apply to the practice of customer satisfaction.


Most customer satisfaction theory revolves around the quality of the product and post sale support. The main point of this book is that customers can become dissatisfied during the selling process and  provides techniques on how to prevent the most common problems.

The book focuses on ‘one on one’ selling techniques, as opposed to general marketing.

1. SOB customers are made, not born.

In fact, the author implies that SOB customers are made by sales mistakes that can be prevented by applying the strategies in the book.

2. Don’t be afraid to engage with a SOB

They can be turned around

3. Be different and ‘worth it’

If you are not different than most other products or sales people, your only closing tool will be to have the cheapest price. People buy from people they like so develop a relationship first.

Seven Top Reasons why customers become Stubborn, Obnoxious and/ or Belligerent

1. They have low expectations of the sales rep or the selling process, often due to prior history.

2. They have been led to believe that they should have high expectations when they buy. These expectations are created by corporate marketing, and advertising or a sales person that over promises. When these expectations are not met, the customer feels deceived, or cheated.

3. The customer often knows what they want and don’t want to spend hours going through a long sales process while the sales person shows off their knowledge of all the details of the product they are selling. It is wasting the customer’s time.

4. Unskilled sales people waste the customer’s time. A sales person that does not know how to build rapport, learn wants and needs, or address objections, will frustrate the customer.

5. Un-knowledgeable sales people waste the customer’s time. If  Prospect deals with a sales person that does not know the product he or she is selling, or worse, tries to bluff through serious concerns, prospects will react with impatience or anger.

6. Unmotivated sales people turn the sales process into a ‘drag’. Lack of enthusiasm is the example given in the book, but I can recall the frustration of sales people who take their time coming over to serve you, talking amongst themselves instead, like you are not even there. This can make a customer into a SOB even before the selling process starts.

7. Some people have personal problems in their lives and take it out on everyone around them.

Some Selling truths to improve working with SOBs

1. Don’t judge a customer as difficult too quickly.

2. Understand the top 3 concerns your difficult customer has (get the concerns prioritized).

3. Don’t react to provocation.

4. Seek to understand. ‘Customer’s don’t buy when they understand, they buy when they feel understood.’

5. Never say ‘no’ to a SOB. Try to find a compromise or articulate what you can do.

6. Find a way to compliment a SOB, even if it is to recognize that he or she has really done their homework.

7 . Don’t get caught in trivial battles. Focus on major things.

8. Follow up with difficult customers. Tough customers know they are hard to please. They can be brought around if you have value to contribute to them and keep trying to earn their business, in a positive friendly useful way.

9. Don’t rush a SOB. Ensure you build rapport, ask questions, get to know what they are looking for and priorities. Don’t skip any of the basic  steps.

10. Treat every one in the buying group (whomever the prospect brings with them)  with respect. You never know who has influence power.

11. Focus on the positive emotions your prospect will have after the sale.

12. Don’t overwhelm the prospect with too many facts (that may not be relevant) but make the sales person feel proud of his product knowledge. Don’t one-up the customer.

13. Keep promises and meet deadlines.

14. Admit mistakes.

15. Accept responsibility for your actions or the actions of your organization. Don’t blame someone else.

Strategies for Dealing with Ticked-off Customers

1. Begin your answer with ‘I’m Sorry’

2. ‘Get angry with the customer  but not at the customer’.  For example, say ‘I hate it when that happens’ or ‘That should never have happened’

3. ‘Ask the customer what it will take to make things right’

4. Bring the them to your management, if you have to say no to the customer. Have the manager do it.

5. Own the problem.  Don’t pass the buck.

6. Avoid language that will antagonize the customer. (‘That’s not my job’ is the worst).

7. Remember that customers who have a problem solved are often the most loyal customers afterwards

8. When you make a mistake, admit it,  Be humble and offer to make it right.

Summary:

Overall, this was an excellent book on one on one selling. But it brought home that there are many causes for customer dissatisfaction. One of them can be the way the customer is sold to. This book goes through excellent examples of the right and wrong things to do during the selling process to deal with difficult customers.

 

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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