Working With Hard To Please Customers

It’s no great surprise to most advertising salespeople that getting along with their customer is a part of their job . . . and their peace of mind.

Recently at a seminar I conducted for the customers of a weekly publication.  I asked the merchants what irritated them the most about the salespeople who called on them.  Their collective reply didn’t surprise me, because it’s a common reason for dissatisfaction: their sales representative takes them for granted and really doesn’t try to understand their needs, and their problems.

On the other hand, salespeople complain about unreasonable customers who treat them badly, who try to intimidate them and who are just plain hard to please.  The road to the firing line with customers is traveled by salespeople who are sometimes not prepared to “be in the arena.”

Individual Motivation and Preparation

Before you can handle the customer, you have to handle yourself.  How much faith do you have in your operation, your sales co-workers, and your support team?  Faith is a positive strength and is needed to build your confidence in your publication.

How is your voice vitality?  If you intend on handling people, you have to speak clearly.  This means projection of your voice, enunciating each word and not dropping off on the last word of the sentences, which is the result of a lack of energy in your voice control.

What about your likability factor?  Do you project warmth, friendliness, sense of humor and a frequent smile?  This is first brain communication and basically means that you sell with emotion and justify with facts or logic.

What kind of a study program are you on?  The libraries and bookstores are full of hundreds of books and tapes, which can help you in your quest for better customer service.  Study every day for 30 minutes and watch your communications antenna go up to receive increased knowledge.

Group Teamwork and Preparation

The customer doesn’t see just you, they see the people you represent. Your staff has to operate as a team with a united front.  If the team is not organized and is disagreeable with each other, the customer sees this and many times will take advantage of the situation.

A great approach to this problem is called “A Short Course in Human Relations” and has the following elements:

6 Most Important Words:

“I admit I made a mistake.”

5 Most Important Words:

“You did a good job.”

4 Most Important Words:

“What is your opinion?”

3 Most Important Words:

“Will you please . . .”

2 Most Important Words:

“Thank you.”

Most Important Word:


Least Important Word:

Another important point to consider is the policies of the publication which are shown in media kits, rate cards, brochures, and discussed frequently by the salespeople.  Although policies are generally thought out carefully, they may actually create hard-to-please customers. Examples of this are:   Charges for camera work which can be done easily on the computer, questionable charges for ad positions, proof procedures that invite needless customer changes, excessive charges for inserts, and many other situations which seem to stimulate consistent complaints from customers.

Advertising – Customer Image

Many hard-to-please customers are created because they are upset over their advertising programs and let their discontent go on and on until they are ready to quit and then it’s too late.  A lot of customer displeasure can be alleviated with proper planning and incorporating:

The goals of the advertiser – getting their ego involved.

Reasons why shoppers should come to their business.

Knowing winning edge points over competition.

A creative campaign that tells the story of their business.

Ad design that attracts the reader with provocative headings, bold illustrations, sharp copy and above all, ads which are easy to read and talk about one idea at a time.
On the Firing Line with Customers

Before we examine the types of hard-to-please customers, let’s look at some basic guidelines to make happy customers.

Acknowledge seriousness of the problem.

Make statements of emotional empathy.

Acknowledge validity of their emotions.

Use their name.

Give personal reassurance, “I’m taking personal responsibility for this.

Give a clear plan of action.

Say “I’m sorry.”

Use statements of conviction, “We’re going to do something about that.”
7 Types of Hard-to-Please Customers

Pit Bulls – would like to take you apart personally – they look you in the eye and say, “The last thing is to get on the wrong side of me!” They are intense, but coherent.  At times they can get out of control. To Do:   Take charge and make something happen fast.  Interrupt politely and say their name.  Quickly reflect back on the program and establish:   “We are on the same side ? so I can help you solve the problem faster ? do you mind if I ask you some questions?”  Move to solution phase ? “We’re going to do something about this ? I’m going to be personally responsible.”

Powder Kegs – Demand attention.  They like to yell . . . the results of an internal explosion.  They are critical of the salesperson, the newspaper office, and anything else they can think of.  Sometimes they are not precise on their criticism, just random.  To Do:   Be sensitive to their needs.  Don’t say “calm down” or “relax.”  Do say their name over and over.  Try to reduce intensity by saying “I care ? I’m here to help you.  I’m sure we can work this out.”

Demanders are a cross between a powder keg and a pit bull.  They demand attention and action.  Many times they are ranting and raving and out of control . . . many times they will not stay in one place . . . they will move around and gesture wildly.  To Do:   Find out what is behind their demands.  What is their intent.  You need to tell it like it is:   be very direct, summarize frequently.  “We don’t want you to be unhappy. What can I do to help solve your problem?”  If customer continues to be abusive, it’s time to cut off conversation by saying, “I’ve tried to help you, if I’ve failed, will you still do business with us?”

Sarcastics – Have suppressed resentment and anger.  They are asking for attention in a subtle manner.  Many times you are dealing with the tip of the iceberg.  There are many more layers of suppressed resentment yet to come.  To Do:   Call attention to their sarcasm in a tactful way. Try to understand the significance of their problem.  Sincerely try to help them.  “I can’t change the past, but I can change the future ? I will personally work this problem through.”  Build emotional loyalty.

Know-It-Alls – “I know 99% of everything.”  They feel in total control and can get anything done.  They have a supreme ego and want your full attention.  They think they know everything.  To Do: “Of course you know this . . .”  “As you know . . .” use documentation and show value of knowledge.  Lead indirectly.  “I was just wondering . . .” “Hypothetically speaking . . .”  “What do you suppose . . .”  Turn idea over to them:   “Let’s methodically go through what has happened ? let’s go through a check list together.”  Validate their ego by saying, “As you know . . .”

Grumblers – Whiners, negative people, no matter what you say, it’s always wrong.  Constantly complaining – everything’s wrong, nothing is right, even when something is solved, they still come up with something to complain about.  To Do:  Interrupt when they begin to repeat themselves.  Take notes (on phone, tell them you’re taking notes). Patience and persistence are required.  Try exaggeration of universal statements:   “Everything?  Everything is wrong?”  Ask them for tips, techniques, for ways to prevent problems in the future.

Nitpickers – Spin their wheels.  In endless detail.  The key question is:   What is behind their extreme attention to detail?  Are they always this way or does your publication bring out a negative reaction?  To Do:   Appreciate their attention to detail.  Show that you are a detail person by using documentation, ask if there is anything else.  Help them to sort it out:   Here’s a positive point, here’s a negative point. Here are things which could be changed, and here are things that can’t be changed.
Positive Changes ? Personal Action Plan

Practice letting people feel understood.  Clarify your values.  Question policies.  Meet with your staff and talk about the things you did with your customers this week that worked and didn’t work.  This team analysis will do wonders for your publication’s customer service efforts.