Last week, I received an email from Jimmy, a new Generation Y friend I met on LinkedIn. He wanted to know how to deal with a customer that makes unreasonable demands. He asked if I ever wrote about the subject. Up until now, no.

Though, when I was a sales executive in the high tech software world, I had my share of customers who were very very hard to please.

In my coaching business, I could only think of one client out of several hundred whose been unreasonable. Lucky? Perhaps. I think I do a real good job at setting the right expectations.

On Friday, during the lunch hour, I had 45 minutes before my next coaching session, so, I asked Jimmy Gen Y to call me at 12:15 pm to further explore the topic. As I waited for the phone to ring, I nommed on a healthy Wegmans salmon burger, thinking of the times when I had an unruly customer and how I handled the situation.

Jimmy Gen Y’s client was unhappy with the new invoicing system his company put in place. A system to make things easier. More streamlined.

She, unreasonable customer, wanted nothing to do with new. Jimmy dealt with her in a professional manner, managing the situation the best he knew how. Unfortunately, he was at a standstill. Sometimes, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

The customer is a well-known entity, though, their revenue numbers don’t contribute significantly to the bottom line. One of those clients with instant name recognition. A marquee name you namedrop when trying to close new biz with a fresh prospect.

Jimmy Gen Y described the situation to his branch manager.  For whatever reason, BM decided to acquiesce and give the customer what they wanted. BM probably had bigger fish to fry.

“Was her demand reasonable?” I asked Jimmy, as I finished the last bite of my delicious salmon burger. “No it wasn’t” he replied. “In fact, it will cause her more work if she continues to do things the old way” he added. “Interesting” I mused.

My Millennial friend and I brainstormed as to what might have been going on with this unreasonable customer:

  • She felt the new system was going to cause her more work.
  • She’s the type that likes to growl at a vendor just for the sake of growling. Grrrr.
  • She was getting grief from above. Boss barked, she barked, we all bark!
  • She was in a bad mood due to an unrelated circumstance.
  • She felt the new system would be too efficient and eliminate her position.

Most people don’t like change. If they don’t see any upside for them, or feel threatened, they’re unlikely to hop on board the new boat. Instead, they opt to remain on Status Quo Island where it’s comfortable. Familiar. No surprises.

So, what do you do when you come face to face with an unreasonable customer and their teeth start to show?

  • Expect the Best – As you engage with each customer, expect the best resolution for all parties will be reached. If you go into the discussion with your guard up, the customer will see it, feel it, and try to bust right through it, over it, or around it. You get what you expect, so, expect a marvy outcome.
  • See Their Side – Put on your empathetic hat. Try walking in your customers shoes and experience what they’re feeling. Even if it makes no sense at the time. Go to their side of the table. Be genuinely concerned about what’s truly best for them and deliver as much value as possible.
  • Be Curious – Don’t fall into react mode just because a customer is unhappy and starts to bark. You don’t need a quick answer. Keep your cool. Answer their question with a question. Listen and reflect back to the customer in a neutrally charged way. Sometimes, letting the customer verbalize their own feelings solves the issue at hand without you having to do a thing.
  • Understand Behavior Styles – Anyone in your company, that’s in daily close interactions with the customer, needs to understand behavioral styles. Meaning, how to effectively communicate with someone that’s direct, versus another that’s touchy feely, versus another that likes to analyze things eight ways to Sunday. I offer coaching in this area, so, contact me to learn more.

What’s your “unreasonable customer” story? How did you solve the issue? What techniques can you share below?

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Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida.





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