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How to Manage Your Customer’s Stress

How to Manage Your Customer’s Stress
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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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Published on July 27, 2021

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

Put the Pro in Professional

After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

2. Dress the Part

While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

3. Stage Your Workspace

Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

5. Arrive on Time

In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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6. Turn on Your Video

Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

Attend to the Pesky Details

8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

Talking Has a Time and a Place

11. Chat Appropriately

Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

Manage Yourself

14. Minimize Distractions

While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

15. Save Snacking for Later

Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

Final Thoughts

Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

Reference

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