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Keeping Things Cool with a Presidential Election Underway

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It happens like clockwork every four years—a lineup of presidential candidates takes the stage and political parties dual it out. For some customers, it’s their favorite season, and they can’t wait to talk to everyone about it. For service providers, it can be a nightmare. After a week of calling on customers, each eager to explain in detail why their party and their candidate is “the one,” you may find yourself exhausted.

Fortunately, there are several ways to avert, avoid, or minimize these political tirades to lessen the emotional wear and tear you experience. Arguing with a customer is never productive, and agreeing with something you don’t believe is hard on your morals. These helpful suggestions will give you some tactics to stop this unwelcome situation before it gets out of control.

Avoid political questions
Refuse to take the bait. When you’re asked a direct question, a simple admission can work. “I’m sorry, but it’s company policy not to discuss political issues with customers. We’ve found it’s the best way to preserve business relationships.” Don’t engage and don’t defend.

Offer a neutral comment
If your customer is up on a soap box, espousing his political theories, you can always say something inoffensive and noncommittal. “I can see how passionate you are about your party” can be offered up or something along those lines, such as “you’ve certainly given this a lot of thought.”
Smile and stay calm

It takes at least two people to have an argument. If you won’t play along, the game ceases to be entertaining. Some people actually enjoy arguing, and others want to argue just to convince themselves that their beliefs are correct.

David Krueger of Greiner Heating & Air Conditioning says, “We advise our staff to take the stance that will get you out of the situation peacefully. If you actively agree with the customer’s opinion, then agree. If you actively oppose the customer’s opinion, just leave it in the truck and be polite.”

If Mr. Smith is really on a rant, just nod and go about your business. Eventually he’ll run out of steam without an audience. If you try to interrupt, he might just redouble his efforts. When he finally takes a breath, say something completely unrelated, such as “Crazy weather we’ve been having, isn’t it? Tell me what’s been going on with your air conditioning.” Learn to deflect.

Another version of redirecting is to ask the customer a personal question. Everyone loves to talk about themselves! It can be something simple, like

“This is a great kitchen, you must really like to cook.” Oftentimes, this will be enough to get the customer off and running on a subject that isn’t so charged.

Steer clear of triggers
Whatever you do, don’t bring up anything that will cause a political fracas. Emotional subject matter could include religion, welfare, specific rights, or other controversial topics. Business calls should be polite, friendly and to the point.
Show respect

Even if you don’t agree with anything Mrs. Jones is saying, let her know that you respect her rights to a political opinion.

Mike Carson of Brody-Pennell Heating and Air Conditioning explains, “Tell the customer ‘I hear what you’re saying.’ Let them know that you respect their points and opinions.” A little respect can go a long way towards diffusing the situation.

Carson continues, “If you’re personally on the same page with the customer, you may choose to just to agree.” If it’s not done too enthusiastically, a simple agreement may be enough to convince her that she doesn’t have to convince you!

Use the tried and true side-step
Sometimes, you have to end up acting like a matador. When the bull keeps charging, you keep gracefully side-stepping. With practice, you won’t get gored, and the bull will tire.

If you’re in the basement looking at a problem heating system, and you’re being pressed with partisan propaganda, you might point to the client’s washer and ask, “How would you rate the performance of that washer? We’ve been thinking of replacing our old one.” Now you’re actually asking his opinion on something, and it’s gloriously principle-free!

Customer Relations Training
Think through how useful it can be to have a clear company policy to fall back on. All employees should be trained on the basic customer service relations that are expected of them. The more detailed you are in your training, the higher you can expect your customer satisfaction levels to be.

Krueger explains, “We have awareness training sessions where we go through human interaction scenarios. Talking about diffusing political situations with customers is a part of that preparation.”

As with all communications, if you learn how to absorb what’s useful, and to disregard what’s unproductive, you’ll always be ahead of the game!

Melinda Wamsley

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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