Emotional Judo For Those "Discriminating" Clients

November 6, 2003
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"Disarm" an emotional client with a series of countermoves.


The phone rings. Innocent, off-guard and unaware of what is about to occur, you answer.

You: "Good morning. J-D Carpet Cleaning. How may I -- ?"
Customer (angry): "I demand to talk to the owner immediately!"
You: "Uhhh...sorry, ma'am. The boss just left on a six-week safari to Africa!"

It is tempting to run and hide from difficult complaint calls like this. However, some cleaners welcome complaints because they have mastered "emotional judo." A martial arts expert can easily defeat someone twice his size by using the attacker's momentum against him; you can "disarm" an angry customer and actually convert them into a loyal advocate, or Cheerleader, by precisely following this nine-step emotional judo procedure. Here is what you say:

"First, let me thank you for letting me know about your concern." Are you grateful that the customer is giving you a chance to resolve her worry instead of trashing your reputation to 20 or 30 neighbors and co-workers? You certainly should be; why not tell her so?

"I really apologize for this disruption." All too often we think that an apology means we are accepting guilt. You are not accepting responsibility...yet. However, it is important to sincerely apologize for the hassle of the customer having to call you back.

"I am going to do everything possible to resolve your concern." Are you going to do everything you can to make this customer happy? Of course you are. Why not reassure her of your intentions and in the process defuse her anger and worry? If you have precisely followed every step so far, by now the angry customer should most of their anger knocked out of them and in fact be wondering just what has happened.

"So, let me review your concern with you..." Complaining customers tend to dramatically exaggerate their problem in the hope that you will take action faster. But after following the three steps above, you will have "flipped" your customer emotionally; they will be calmer and therefore much more reasonable. It is now time to find out what your client's real concern is. (Hint: Be sure to let the customer know you are writing their responses down, e.g., "I'm sorry. Give me just a second to make a note of this point...")

"We absolutely want to get this resolved. Let me check our schedule and find a time when we can meet you." At this point you have three goals:

  • Fix the customer's concern. Period. All too often business owners get emotional (stubborn and resentful) here. The fact is, 99.99 percent of the time it is cheaper in the long run to acquiesce to the customer's demands, no matter how unreasonable they may seem, than to try and negotiate.
  • Resolve their concern fast. Try to arrive on-site the same day if at all possible.
  • Whatever you decide on, do it cheerfully. Since we have already decided you are going to give the customer what they want, why not put a smile on your face and make a Cheerleader out of the customer at the same time?

    "While I am here anyway, let me take care of ..." Ron Zemke, in his book "Service America," calls it "Symbolic Atonement"; I call it Doing Something Extra. Either way, with this step you recognize that to make a Cheerleader, it is not enough to just fix the customer's concern. After all, they expect you to fix the problem. By Doing Something Extra, be it something as simple as cleaning their doormat or presenting them with a $20 gift certificate good for their next cleaning, you are telling the customer you are recognizing (and compensating them for) the emotional distress and inconvenience this whole process has caused them. You are also likely to create a fanatically loyal Cheerleader for your company. Remember, it is the gesture that counts.

    "Let me review what I've done." Before you leave, make absolutely sure the homeowner is delighted with your efforts. Note the word "efforts" instead of "results." If the customer realizes you have done everything you can, many times they will be happy even if the results are not 100 percent. This shows the need for the customer to be there during the call back if at all possible.

    "Thank you for letting me know about this." Can you thank a customer too many times? I don't think so, especially when they have given you another chance to make things right and in the process create a delighted Cheerleader! Are you grateful? Of course. Why not let them know?

    "Mrs. Jones, I'm just calling to make sure the work we re-did yesterday still looks great today." It is a great moment of truth for your client when you show you care enough to check back and make sure they are still happy. Chances are, they will be. And if they aren't 100-percent delighted, at least now you will know!

    None of us really delight in dealing with unhappy clients. The goal obviously is 100-percent-delighted customers. But even with the very best value-added-service procedures, complaints will happen. And if they are pushed hard enough, your competitors will grudgingly do just enough to make these disgruntled people leave them alone.

    You, on the other hand, will come to view customer complaints as wonderful opportunities. Remember that these complaining customers are used to feeling abused and unhappy in their dealings with other companies. But if you follow the nine Emotional Judo steps detailed above, these "discriminating" clients will be so surprised by your superb service they will become passionately loyal "Turbo" Cheerleaders for you!

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