Seven Strategies to Succeed With That Demanding, Difficult Customer

by Sherrie Campbell Psychologist, Author, Speaker


    When a customer is never satisfied, it's natural for the salesperson to lose motivation for working with this person. Sticking it out requires a strategy for dealing with difficult people, self-restraint and an ability to keep power in the relationship. The sales professional must learn when to be hard and when to be soft in conflict. 

    The Solution

    1. Listen patiently.

    In dealing with a demanding customer, the sales professional should not be forceful. That just blocks negotiation. Instead the salesperson must come across soft and not talk over the difficult customer, even when it's abundantly clear that she is off base. 

    Let the customer talk herself out. Keep in mind the needier her behavior, the more power the salesperson has since neediness comes from weakness. By listening, the salesperson can build trust, empathy and rapport and it calms down the difficult person. 

    2. Show empathy.

    A salesperson can demonstrate empathy through eye contact, body language and smaller verbal cues showing engagement and concern. 

    By being empathetic and attuned, the salesperson makes it clear he understands the customer’s concerns. He should repeat back what's being said so the customer can feel that she's being understood. 

    3. Lower the voice and slow down speech.

    If a customer is irate, the salesperson should be quiet amid this aggression. As the customer grows louder, the salesperson should be alert, lower his voice and talk slowly but firmly. 

    This strategy shows there's no emergency, the client can relax and whatever she is demanding can be handled efficiently. A salesperson must keep in mind that emotions are contagious and if he becomes caught up in a customer's emotional chaos, the negotiation will not be productive. 

    4. Imagine an audience.

    It's effective for a salesperson to imagine other customers are in the room observing this interaction as a way to keep calm and in charge of the interaction. Imagining an audience completely changes the emotional dynamics for the salesperson. 

    This simple shift in perspective grants a buffer to keep the salesperson thinking clearly. After all, he wouldn't want the other customers he works with to see him as anything less than stellar. This way when a difficult customer becomes irate or abusive, the sales professional can invoke the “invisible audience” to remain grounded and in top performance mode.  

    5. Be wrong to be right.

    The sales professional should go with the customer's energy. If nothing the professional is doing or saying can satisfy this customer, then he can use the strategy of agreement: surrendering and granting agreement to the difficult customer (even when he's right). 

    Because this is unexpected, the customer will probably start defending the salesperson. It's a natural behavioral mechanism that when a person is allowed to win that she will start to be more open to what she was fighting against. 

    6. Demonstrate emotional control.

    If the customer swears or becomes abusive, the sales professional should remind himself that anger comes from fear. By pushing aside the anger element and reading between the lines to discern the demanding customer's fears, the salesperson can attend to core issues and not be misdirected by the chaos of the surface emotion. 

    If the salesperson can train his mind to see anger as fear, he can stay calm and de-escalate the customer's confrontation.  

    7. It's not personal.

    When dealing with an unsatisfied customer, a salesperson needs to remind himself that this is a business issue not a personal one. If the salesperson is being attacked on a personal level, it can trigger him to defend himself and move away from the issue at hand. 

    Therefore, the salesperson must be a passive yet firm presence against the force used by the difficult customer, reminding himself that the customer feels out of control and is trying to gain control. Angry people have the maturity of a 2-year-old, so the sales professional would be wise to remember the power in remaining calm, flexible, patient and mindful.