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Dealing with Meddling Customers

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Soon after arriving at the home of a new customer, you are bombarded by the customer’s lengthy explanation of why his HVAC system isn’t working, and informs you of the multiple, detailed steps you must take to fix it. He knows all of them because he’s diligently researched the subject on the internet, and he’s more than happy to show you all the print outs. In addition, his uncle used to work on air conditioners, so he’s confident he knows what he’s talking about! If you’ll wait just a second, he’ll get his tool kit, because he can’t wait to help you.

You’ve just entered the Meddling Customer Zone. Thankfully, there are a few tools at your disposal to make your visit more productive and positive for you and your customer.

It helps to understand the root causes of your client’s behavior. Sometimes it’s a sincere sense of superiority. Most often, it’s simply that the customer has deep-seated insecurity accompanied by a lack of confidence. By acting superior, he activates a self-defense mechanism that soothes his fears.

Know-it-alls tend to exhibit similar personality traits.

  • Thinks she knows everything
  • Dismissive of the opinions of others
  • Reluctant to listen
  • Self-centered and enjoys hearing himself talk

The fastest way to get things on track and save you a lot of frustration is to have a strategy. Give your client the benefit of the doubt. He wants control and needs respect. You can easily give a little control and a lot of respect to win his trust and turn a trying situation into a successful interaction.

Explain your and your company’s qualifications and credentials. Let the client know what a good decision they’ve made by choosing to deal with such a reputable firm. Explain your course of action and reasoning. Involve the client by suggesting that some of the ideas she pointed out helped you come to this path. Phrases like, “You mentioned your research suggested troubleshooting the blower first, and you’re right” will go a long way toward building a bridge. The only ego that matters here is your client’s, so give her credit for an idea or two.

Pick your battles. Simon Casey, psychologist and author advises, “Know-it-alls tend to be grandiose egocentrics with an inability to admit they’re ever wrong. If you challenge them directly, that’s where they thrive—they’ll argue relentlessly to prove their point.” Save your dispute for something important.

Practice active listening. The customer might actually have some valuable things to say amongst all the bravado. Offer an occasional, sincere complement. Ask specific questions and pay attention to the answers.

Set boundaries. The meddling customer delights in needless interruptions. She will ask irrelevant questions, offer to get you a cup of coffee, tell you about a completely different HVAC problem her Aunt Millie is having, and in general, drain your energy and time. Tell this clingy customer that you will update her as vital information becomes available or a decision is needed. Go back to your task with determination, and if absolutely necessary, make a phone call or start a loud power tool.

Communicate. Ensure that you have already given the client a detailed outline of your planned actions, and that the points have been well articulated. Be respectful. If the customer has, issues getting on board with you try non-threatening phrases like “I’ve found in my experience that….”, or, “the building code states…” Try to understand where he’s coming from. Bob Helbing of Air-Tro offers this perspective, “You’re in their home, and they are spending their money, and it concerns their family. If you feel they are meddling, perhaps it’s that you haven’t convinced them of your trustworthiness”.

If you encounter a customer who’s more of a backseat driver than anything else, understand that in her own way, she’s trying to offer suggestions she truly believes will help. Psychologist Steven Reiss offers, “The backseat driver is an individual who has a strong need to feel influence, and they’re always looking for ways to express that need.” Thank her for her suggestions and move on.

If you come across a client who is under an erroneous impression, ask yourself how important it is to correct him. If it is inconsequential in the scheme of things, do yourself a favor, and let it go.

Ultimately, it is a judgment call on whether or not the customer is worth it. Is she is a drain on time and resources? If you make a list of pros and cons about her, is the con side twice as long? If this client doesn’t respect your time, your work or you, it may be time to cut her loose.

In the end, the best tactics for dealing with the meddling customer are much the same as working with any other customer. Be courteous, professional, and smile. “Build a bridge at the beginning and resolve all issues of trust,” says Helbing. “You might actually find yourself bonding with the customer over a shared love of technology.”

Melinda Wamsley

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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