You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?”
Answer: “Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change!”
The same can be said for managing other peoples’ emotions. A person’s feelings are under their own control, and our attempts to intervene can only do so much.
But it’s that little space of “so much” that might make a difference in the stress level of your customer.
If you’re a contractor or home improvement specialist, you know well the stress your client is under as they watch their home being torn apart and wait for their lives to be back to normal.
However, if you’re a business person of any kind who deals with customers, the following tips on how to help manage your customer’s stress are meant for you.
Recognize signs of stress.
It’s helpful to notice when your customer is first starting to feel stressed. Hopefully, you can head off the full-blown stress stampede at the pass and keep things calm right away.
Look for the following signs of stress:
- Anger. Is your customer starting to get short with you? Are they interrupting you? Is his voice getting louder? Is her face getting red? Try not to get defensive, just notice that your customer is likely angry because they are beginning to be stressed and utilize one of the interventions below.
- Anxiety. Do you notice that your customer is starting to fret about things? Are they asking a lot of “what if” questions? They might even tell you directly that they’re nervous. Anxiety can be a good indicator of stress.
- Calling (or emailing) you constantly. Your customer might be calling you more than usual, asking where his product is, when her kitchen is going to be done, or when you’re going to finish that website for them.
- Crying. This is a response that might make you very uncomfortable. Try not to worry about it too much, though. Some people really need to cry to get their feelings out, while others are just people who cry easily. It may not have anything to do with you, but it still is a sign of stress that you may want to attend to.
- Being quieter than usual. Sometimes people have a bit of a contrary response when they are starting to feel stress. They get very quiet. If your customer is usually genial and chatty and they suddenly become quiet, pay attention to this.
Recognize your own discomfort with your customer’s expression of stress.
It’s hard not to feel uncomfortable when our customer is starting to get angry, anxious, or — heaven forbid — begins to cry.
Be aware of your own feelings of discomfort with your customer’s stress so that you don’t do anything that might make the situation worse like:
- Discount or minimize their feelings. Saying things like, “It’s not that big of a deal. Don’t worry about it,” only discounts the feelings and message your customer is trying to give you. And it will likely end up in them becoming more angry or anxious, rather than feeling reassured.
- Placate them. Similar to above, saying something like, “Everything is going to be fine,” is really an attempt to make you feel better by distracting them with platitudes!
The reality is that when we allow people to talk about their feelings, it actually helps to not only feel a sense of relief, but also helps them begin to understand their problem more as they are talking it out.
What’s the real trick to helping customers manage their stress? To not only hear what your customers are saying, but to attend to it. Otherwise known as . . .
Anyone can hear words, but to actually listen is a skill. Here are a couple of ways you can let your customer know you’re really listening.
One of the best ways to show someone that you’re listening to them is to reflect the feeling that you’re experiencing.
Saying something as simple as, “I can see that you’re really upset” or “It sounds like this is making you a bit nervous,” can go a long way in showing your customer that you really understand what is happening with them.
Be an engaged listener
First and foremost, remember that your customer’s problem may seem like a small matter to you, but it’s huge to them, otherwise they wouldn’t bring it up. Try these ideas to indicate that you are actively hearing what they are saying.
- Look them in the eyes. You don’t need to have a stare down, but it will help you to appear attentive when you look your customer in the eyes as she is talking and when you’re talking.
- Don’t do something else while they’re talking. Put everything else down and listen. Don’t hammer a nail, ring up another customer, or multi-task. Continue to look them in the eyes and give them your full attention.
- Ask questions for your own clarification. Not only will this help you understand their problem better, but it gives your customer the message that you are truly interested in helping them. And it can help them build a framework that puts their problem into a perspective that both of you can work with.
- Tell them a similar experience you’ve had. Be careful with this one! While telling a story about your own feelings of stress during a similar situation can convince your customer you know where he’s coming from, it’s vital that you don’t hijack the conversation and get carried away with your own story. You’re supposed to help your customer, not the other way around!
A few more helpful ideas
Finally, here are a couple more techniques that can help your customer feel at ease.
- See if there is a small part of the larger problem you can help with. Is there something you can do that will help them feel like action is being taken on their problem? Can you install the toilet in the refinished bathroom? Deliver an outline of the project they desperately need? Tell them you’ll call your distributor to see when the product they ordered is due? Even small progress can help restore their confidence.
- Give them as much information as possible. As much as you can, tell your customer what the process is for their project or product. Time frames, outlines, and possible setbacks all give them an idea of what to expect so their stress level doesn’t run too high.
- Take a deep breath to trigger them to take one. Deep breaths can be very helpful in decreasing the stress response and, like yawning, people will often mimic the behavior of another. So take a deep breath and maybe it will prompt your customer to take one, too. (Just make sure your deep breath doesn’t sound like a sigh of exasperation!)
I hope some of these ideas help you in working with customers who are feeling a lot of stress. Beyond these, though, remember that you can’t fully control someone else’s feelings. Make sure you don’t stress yourself out by trying too hard to influence your customer’s emotions.