How to Keep Bad Customers from Pushing Your Buttons (Part 1)

Don't push my buttons!Let’s face it. We love our customers, except when we don’t. Along with great customers, sometimes we get one or two of those bad customers that take all the fun out of running a small business. Then again, even if the customer is OK, you may still have some bad customer interactions.

Small business owners spend so much time complaining  about bad customers, you’d think that this is all that there is. Customers are hard to get, customers are hard to negotiate with, customers are overbearing, customers don’t know what they want from their life, and customers don’t pay on time.

But without customers there is no business. And so every single business owner needs to learn how to get along with her customers. Because if you don’t love your customers, you can’t Love Your Biz, right?

Technical issues are usually not the worst part of working with customers. It’s how you feel, how you are affected emotionally that makes customer relations difficult. If you feel frustrated, angry, or exasperated, you can’t exactly offer the amazing customer service you want to be known for. Don’t let some bad experiences with customers ruin your business and your reputation for everyone.

Even when customers push our buttons, contrary to popular belief, we do have the ability to control and influence our emotions. On Sukkot, the Torah commands us to rejoice. Here are several other commandments that tell us how we “should” feel. Many commentaries ask how it is possible for God to command us to feel a certain emotion. Their insight is that people can control their emotions, so they can be advised how to feel.

All too often we tend to “outsource” control over our emotion to others, playing the “blame game.” As Leah Gniwesch once put it, you wouldn’t let anyone access the keyboard of your laptop and decide what to write on your computer, so why would you hand over control over your emotions to other people?

Scholars researching the psychology of marketing have found that the business owner’s or salesperson’s ability to regulate her own emotions and tune into the emotions of customers helps create better results for the business and the customers and makes it easier to get customers to come back for repeat business.

Here are five ways you can take charge of your own emotions as you manage your business. (Next time we’ll explore how to use them to grow your business business).

Taking control of Your emotions in business

1. Understand how emotions work – Before you can work with your emotions and channel them more productively, you need to understand how emotions “work.” If you can read only one book on emotions, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a safe bet. In it he distinguishes between 4 emotional abilities, all of which are important for working with customers:

* Perceiving emotions – becoming aware of other people’s emotions by observing their non-verbal communications and body language

* Using emotions – matching our work and tasks to our emotional state (if you are excited, this is the type to tackle a complex project; if you feel sad, you may want to calm down by reading something absorbing)

* Understanding emotions – knowing how emotions are formed and how to stir them in others. This would include understanding how blends of different emotions make people feel and react

* Managing emotions – this is the ability to control our emotions and to influence the emotional state of other people. If your customer is embarrassed, because she just spilled coffee all over your floor, you can make her feel comfortable by taking the blame on yourself (“I am so sorry; this floor is crooked”) and setting her at ease.

2. Self-awareness is another important step in taking ownership of our emotions. Try to observe yourself and your emotional states. What makes you tick? In what situations do you get easily frustrated, sad, or happy? What helps you neutralize negative emotions? What thoughts set out an emotional chain reaction?

Just being aware of how you experience emotions will contribute greatly to your future work on using emotions constructively in a business setting.

3. Improve thinking, improve behavior – Though people know that certain emotions (such as anger) are unproductive, they focus most of their self-improvement efforts on the resulting behavior (the angry outburst). Work on behavior itself “in the moment” makes controlling it exceedingly difficult.

A much more effective strategy is concentrating on your “mental models.” Mental models are like maps or entrenched beliefs that tell you how the world works, what is OK and not OK, and how things must be done, and so on.  One common mental model is negative perception of our own abilities (”I am not good at…”).

The problem with mental models is that often they are based on a subjective interpretation of an event as far back your childhood. Someone told you something and you internalized it and haven’t questioned it since.

Mental models shape how you perceive everything around you. An experienced coach can help you become aware of your mental models, challenge them, and replace unproductive models with more realistic ones.

Becoming aware of our mental models and challenging them is a potent way to change our emotions and behavior. Just the other day, a friend and I talked about how her mental model of what’s considered “normal behavior” for a 9-year-old child led her to kneejerk anger whenever her son acted out.

4. Turn off the emotional auto-pilot – Another excellent approach to improving our emotional intelligence is by what Stephen Covey calls “standing in the gap between the stimulus and the response.”

Our behavior is a choice. Always. It doesn’t just “happen.” A good example is that an identical statement made by different people will make very different impression on us. An unkind comment by a stranger on a street or by your long-time customer will lead you down different paths.

5. Use the ABCs – Psychologist Albert Ellis in How to Keep People from Pushing Your Buttons developed what’s known as the ABC model, which helps us break down those split seconds between things happening and our reaction. It also explains how we form our response.

A – Activating Event happens to us (examples: your customer decides to cancel a deal, asks for a price reduction, or oohs and aahs over your service and offers to write a testimonial)

B – Belief – you look at the event through the prism of your belief as and interpret the events. For example, if you need  $1,000 to make the ends meet this month and your customer walks away from the deal, you may panic. This is because you interpreted the missed customer as your last chance to pay the mortgage this month. (Says who? Maybe a better customer will knock on your door later today). On the other hand, if the same thing happens at a time when your finances are OK, you will be able to take the event calmly.

C – Emotional Consequences – your beliefs and interpretation of the event shape how you feel about it. To continue with the previous example, if the cancelled deal means you won’t be able to pay the next mortgage payment you are likely to feel angry, frustrated, and afraid. If you tell yourself that this customer is not the last customer in the world and Hashem is in charge of parnassa, your feelings will be more neutral.

B – Behavior   – The American model lumps this with emotional response, but the Israeli model distinguishes between the two. Your emotions are likely to dictate your behavior. If you feel extremely happy, it’s hard not to share this happiness with others or at least walk around with a huge grin. On the other hand, if you are angry, it is very hard (and not recommended!) to keep that anger bottled up inside. Sooner or later it will spill over on someone   who crosses your path.

The best way to influence your behavior and emotions is to examine how you interpret events and look for other possible interpretations. A bad customer interaction  doesn’t mean you need to feel bad

The more you know about emotions and are aware of how you feel, the more you can do to feel good.

In a future post, we will explore how working with your emotions can help you attract more of your ideal customers and get more business.

What strategies have you used to take charge of your emotions when dealing with customers?

(Disclosure: All links on this page lead to Amazon Affiliates, but hey, I wouldn’t recommend a book if I didn’t think it was a great resource).


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