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How to Manage Your Customer’s Stress

How to Manage Your Customer’s Stress

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.

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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:

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  • 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 . . .

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Listening

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.

Reflect feelings

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.

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  • 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.

More by this author

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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