Three Ways to Have Better Conversations, Especially with Difficult Customers


Steve Kiernan
Co-Founder & CEO
May 6, 2018
minutes to read

The 3 Tips to Take Away

  1. Respect - Make sure the customer knows you value them, and are taking the situation seriously. And of course, make sure to stay calm, and speak with respect during your interactions with them.
  2. Empathize - Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, a broken heater is really scary in the winter. Understand why they are upset, and it will be easier to stay respectful throughout the conversation.
  3. Actively Listen - If you are actively listening, and not just trying to think of a solution, or of what you need to pick up on the way home, you’ll be able to engage with the customer. You might even think of a better solution if you hear all the details of the problem.

Lets talk about it.

Remember how excited you were the day before you opened your doors for business? The future was uncertain, but full of untapped opportunity. You couldn't wait to get started serving all those new clients. When it comes to business and new clients, you have to take the good with the bad, and the bad means working with difficult customers. Good customers can difficult and demanding, and so remember not all difficult customers are bad; many appear to be difficult because their HVAC systems aren't working, they were unhappy with your service technicians response to  their problem, or they are just having a bad day.  There are many ways to successfully diffuse a difficult customer, and with that we have the top 3 ways to deal with difficult customers.

1. Respect

The difference between diffusing a tough situation and making it more difficult boils down to “being a decent human being.” Lots of service technicians and business owners out there just “follow the checklist” – they take the minimum number of steps necessary to get off the phone or off a job site with a tough customer.  The answer isn’t a magic bullet checklist, a 3-step process, a motivational speech, or a few extra hours of training - to paraphrase several philosophers, do unto your customers as you want to be treated when you’re a customer.

2. Empathize

It's okay to empathize with the customer. In order to truly empathize with them, you need to let go of all your baggage.  It doesn't matter if you are having a good or bad day, you need to leave it. So, try to take a minute or two before you answer a call or step on-site to clear your head and dedicate your full attention to this customer. Now that your baggage has been put aside, take a moment to acknowledge concern through genuine empathy. When you do, you’ll put the customer at ease, establish rapport and improve the perception of your personal customer experience. When you show that you care, customers respond well and remember you positively. They carry that positive feeling with them the next time they use your service, or talk about you to their friends. You cannot always solve a customer’s problem, but you can always make them feel important.

3. Actively Listening

Actively listening is another critical element to empathy. In order to diffuse a difficult situation with a tough customer, you need to pick up on a customer’s tone and sense the level of stress, anger, or frustration.  Active listening also helps you ask better questions as they search for the underlying cause of pain. Active lis­ten­ing is a four-step process that teaches you to focus on the customer, lis­ten for key infor­ma­tion, lis­ten for key feel­ings, and clar­ify their under­stand­ing of what is being said.

Respect, empathy, and actively listening are central requirements for dealing with tough customers and difficult situations.  It is not easy to think "under pressure," but if you can make remember there three point and make a tough customer feel important, you will be able to diffuse any difficult situation.  

4. Add-On or Upsell Count and Amount

Here, we’re looking at repairs sold beyond the original reason for the call. Every time you enter a customer’s home your techs have the chance to sell value added work, beyond the repair itself. If you’re training your techs to sell add-on products, don’t you want to know who's doing it well, and who may need a training refresher?

5. Agreement Opportunities/Sales

Maintenance agreements are the key to a consistent client base and essential for keeping your team busy during the shoulder seasons. Every time your technician is in the home of a non-member there is an opportunity to sell. Are they delivering? You need to know.

6. Future Opportunities

Are your technicians talking to customers with forced air heat about the improved comfort that comes with a humidifier? How about the benefits of water softeners or whole-house surge protection? If the customer is interested, but not now, you need to be able to follow up on those opportunities.

How much money do you think gets left on the table just by failing to make a follow-up call to reintroduce an offered product or service? Tracking these opportunities can be the secret to putting more of that money in your pocket. These opportunities are the gold dust that’s hiding in your business. With a little work, there’s a lot of money just waiting to be panned for and earned.

7. Replacement Opportunities/Sales

Repairing a capacitor on a 17-year-old condenser, or the pilot on a 12-year old hot water tank? These are opportunities for replacement, and your techs should be offering that as an option along with the repair itself. You can determine what you consider a replacement opportunity in your business. But regardless of the conditions you establish, you want to know which of your techs is making the most of them. 

And if they didn’t sell? See the previous item. You should be setting this as an opportunity for a follow up.

Have any recommendations for additional information you’ve found to be essential? How do you make sure your team shares these details after each visit? We’d love to know — drop us a line here.

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