No one wants to deal with mistakes! But staying professional as you handle your customer (and yourself) can determine whether a mistake becomes a disaster, or is just a temporary set-back.
These six tips will help you turn a crisis into an opportunity and strengthen the relationship with your customer:
Tip 1: Stay Calm
When something goes wrong, don’t retreat from reality; step forward to handle your customer in a way that lets him or her know that you’re taking charge. Describe and discuss the situation objectively. Don’t try to hide the scope of what’s happened, but don’t make it sound like a catastrophe, either. Stay clear, calm, and objective when you’re discussing the problem.
To do this…
Tip 2: Manage Your Reaction First
It’s hard to handle your customer effectively if you’re battling guilt, overwhelm, panic, or self-doubt. So manage your own feelings first. Talk to a friend or trusted colleague, write down your thoughts, meditate, exercise, yell, throw things, do whatever you need to do to level your head and then talk to your customer.
Remember: Your customer doesn’t care how you feel. They just want to know what you’re going to do to make things right.
Tip 3: Accept Responsibility…
It’s OK to explainwhat went wrong (if your customer wants to know), but don’t make excuses or blame others.
Your customer may want to tell you how angry, upset, or disappointed they are — and in most cases, you can calm them down by listening closely and expressing sincere empathy (“Of course you’re frustrated. We are, too, and that’s why we’re going to fix this ASAP”).
Sometimes, though, it’s just not possible to handle your customer in a positive, productive way. If they’re screaming, cursing, or throwing around insults or threats, you’ll have to draw a clear, professional boundary.
Before delivering bad news to an abusive customer, talk to your manager, mentor, and/or experienced colleagues about what it’s OK for you to say. It’s good to know where your company sits on the continuum between “the customer is always right” (no matter how wrong they’re acting) and “abusive customers can take their business someplace else.” Find out specifically, is it OK to say, “Mr. Customer, please stop yelling at me”? How about, “Ms. Customer, threats and swearing aren’t going to get this fixed any faster”?
Practice your point of view. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to say, practice saying it — out loud, often, and preferably in front of others. This will make it easier to speak confidently if and when you need to draw a line.
Enlist support. Invite someone with more experience or authority to join the call and help you handle your customer. Asking for support is not a sign of weakness. In this case, it shows mature judgment and forethought on your part.
Prepare your exit. One of the phrases you should practice out loud is an (approved) exit line, such as “I’m going to hang up now. I’ll call you tomorrow to talk more about this.”
Tip 5: Be Impeccably Professional
Your customer is counting on your expertise to save the day; show them that their trust is not misplaced. So, as you’re working to fix the problem, also work to fix any damage to your team’s image by demonstrating leadership and seriousness:
Give your customer brief, realistic updates.
Continue to discuss things calmly.
If there are further setbacks, acknowledge them and adjust your game plan.
And last but not least…
Tip 6: Keep Things in Perspective
Six months from now, this episode will either be a dim memory or a good lesson learned.
In either case, you will see it very differently then; so try to keep it in perspective now!
When I was in school, I had to write a lot of essays. This was great practice for thinking logically (and becoming a speechwriter!), and I hope that essays haven’t gone the way of the rotary telephone.
But today, TED Talks are also being assigned in class.
So I sometimes hear from students who have sophisticated questions — like this one:
A Letter from Australia…
HI, I’m a year 9 student involved in a group project to deliver a TED-style speech on minimising the impacts of hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons due to climate change. The case study we have chosen is hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico late last year. My group wants to present an engaging piece but we are not sure of how to start. We would like to include a lot of facts and information without boring the audience. And we want to develop a strong awareness and use an analogy but we can’t think of one that is most suitable and catchy.”
…and the TED Talk Advice I Sent Back
It sounds like you and your group have picked an ambitious and exciting topic!
Surprisingly, it doesn’t really matter what format you choose for your talk, as long as things fit together and flow in a conversational way. This means, don’t try to force things into your talk. Instead, build your talk around one idea, and then add the facts, figures, stories, etc., that help bring your idea to life.
Your Opening Can Be the Last Thing You Decide On
Whatever format you choose, though, it’s best to wait and write your opening last.
That’s because it’s hard to open a talk you haven’t written yet. Once you have the body of it pretty clear, you will know what works for your opening; and then, ideally, you can revisit and pay off the opening in your close.
Openings that work well for TED talks (and other speeches) include:
A heartfelt story that has meaning for the person presenting it
A question that engages the audience (“Have you ever felt like…?”)
An invitation to imagine something (“Think about a time when…”)
A surprising statistic (“Did you know that….”)
In the case of your talk, you could use any of these approaches. You could:
Begin your talk with a story about one person who was caught in Hurricane Maria.
Or ask the audience a question that brings up the feelings of being caught in a life-threatening disaster (“Have you ever had to run for your life with only the things you could carry?”)
Or invite them to imagine what it would be like to, for example, live without electricity for six months, or to sleep in a home whose roof has been blown away, or lose your home to a hurricane.
And there are many mind-boggling statistics about what happened in Puerto Rico
Think about Your TED Talk’s Overall Flow
Another good public speaking trick is — in the body of your talk — to go from a very specific focus (Hurricane Maria) to a more general focus (the many impacts of climate change) to then offering your thoughts about solutions.
Then, you circle around to your opening and close the circle with the big idea you want your audience to take away (“If we work on this together, maybe we can prevent another tragedy that leaves thousands of families homeless”), and you have a speech.
Business Communication Skills Can Help with More than Just Business
You won’t hear this at a job interview, but the fact is, there’s a lot of inter-personal emotion mixed into our daily business lives:
People have trouble accepting feedback.
People get annoyed with (and are sometimes rude to) their coworkers.
Personal situations show up at the office. That baseball game your boss’s son lost? The argument a colleague had with their spouse at breakfast? A bad night’s sleep, a worry about the mortgage? They might spill over into your co-worker’s day — and from there, maybe into yours.
No wonder communicating with your business or work colleagues can feel so much like communicating with the people at home: In both settings, people can get on your last nerve!
Whether You’re at Work or at Home, People Can Be Annoying
I’ll bet you’ve noticed that.
I was recently reminded of it during a five-day road trip I took with my husband and our adult daughter, who was visiting us.
The trip was primarily relaxing and fun, but at various moments, I was both annoying to them, and annoyed with them.
To add insult to injury, my annoyance was often triggered by ridiculously petty things that I knew weren’t worth reacting to. (Do I really need to comment on which spot my husband chooses in a parking lot?? Apparently I do, which is embarrassing.)
The funny thing is, the more you care about someone — or the more time you spend with them — the more annoying they can seem. And it’s hard to put the brakes on your reactivity because you have to focus on the annoyance to decide how to handle it.
This is a job for business communication skills!
Image by Joe Green | Unsplash
To Solve a Communications Problem, Start by Defining It
It’s often easy, both at work and at home, to think of what you want to say. But it can be a lot harder to anticipate how your comments are going to land with the person you’re talking to.
That’s why, in speaker coaching sessions, I ask my clients things like:
Will speaking out help you get what you want?
Is the other person willing to talk about this problem?
How can you frame your message in a way that they’ll be able to hear?
During my road trip with Husband and Daughter, I tried to apply that same approach.
The result was The Annoyance Grid, which you can download below.
The Grid will help you think about whether to voice your annoyance or suck it up. (If you’re annoyed with someone at work, there’s a third option, which is to discuss it with your manager.)
Whether You’re Annoyed at Work or at Home, Start by Asking “Whose Problem Is This, Anyway?”
As you’ll see from The Annoyance Grid, there are two possible answers to the “Whose problem is this?” question: The problem is either mine or yours.
If my reaction seems extreme (I want to scream because you’re taking 30 seconds to choose a parking space), the problem is probably mine. But if your behavior seems extreme (you’re taking 20 minutes to choose a parking space), the problem might be yours.
If my reaction seems random (I usually think your pink shirt is cute, but today, for some reason, I hate it and “have to” tell you), the problem is probably mine. But if your behavior seems random (you’re usually polite, but you just snapped at me to shut up), the problem might be yours.
If my reaction is isolated (shared by no one else), the problem is probably mine. But if my reaction is typical (your behavior is annoying lots of other people, too), the problem might be yours.
Since it’s so easy to blame the other person for what you’re feeling, try to start with a default assumption that the problem might be yours. That won’t always be true, but it’s true often enough that it’s worth keeping an open mind.
What’s your next step? Download The Annoyance Grid... explore the process it suggests at home… and don’t forget to transfer this business communication skill back to the office!
The other happens when employees, entrepreneurs — really, anyone in business — “pitches” a prospect, donor, influencer, or boss to get support for a project or an idea.
If you work “outside the home,” you’ve probably given a business pitch, and you’ll probably give one again. (And if your work is raising children, you’ve probably pitched a toddler or two, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Great Pitching Comes in All Shapes and Sizes
On one end of the spectrum, you have BIG pitches. These can feature lots of well-dressed presenters, complicated PowerPoints, beautifully printed handouts, gifts or novelty items for the prospective clients — everything but a marching band (and sometimes you’ll get that, too).
On the other end, you have INTIMATE pitches. These are often conversations, with a few people gathered around one computer to look at visuals and talk about a project.
You’d think those two extremes would be worlds apart. But put aside the bells and whistles, and every successful client presentation or pitch follows these 3 Rules of Great Pitching:
Great Pitching Rule #1: The Pitch Is Not about You
You may have heard the old joke where someone says,
But enough about me. What do you think of me?
Lots of pitches sound like that. They’re all about my credentials, what I’ve accomplished, and the fancy clients that swear by me me me me me.
The problem is, you’re pitching to people who want to know what “you” can do for them them them them them.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule:
If you’re in a field where certification matters — doctor, engineer, commercial airline pilot — it doesn’t hurt to mention that you’re certified. (And if your prospects are impressed by credentials, by all means impress them. But remember, not everyone cares.)
If you’ve worked in your prospect’s industry, or solved their type of problem, you’d be foolish not to share your track record of success.
If your background or skills are relevant, it’s fine to let people know how, where, and when you acquired that background or those skills.
But, in general, you’re better off skipping a long discussion of your credentials, descriptions of your last 30 projects, and a list of your capabilities.
Instead, go straight to…
Great Pitching Rule #2: Focus on Solving Your Prospect’s Problem
Let’s assume that,
By the time you get to the pitching stage, you know what problem or need your prospective client is trying to solve, and
You have some thoughts about how to go about solving it.
Your prospect would like to hear those thoughts!
And sharing your ideas — even during your initial contact — is the most effective way to let your prospect see your skill, experience, and creativity.
Here’s an example:
I recently spoke with someone whose organization was looking for a keynote speaker for a half-day department retreat.
I was interested.
But then she mentioned that my keynote would be followed by a group activity modeled after the TV show Shark Tank.
Based on everything she’d told me, this didn’t make sense. So I said,
I’m just curious: How committed to the Shark Tank format are you?
It’s just an idea we’re playing with. Why do you ask?
Bingo! I was now invited to explain (a) why Shark Tank was a poor fit for her event’s goals, (b) how it was likely to be a logistical train wreck, and (c) what I thought would work better.
Some would call giving that idea away “free consulting.” But that explanation — that idea — was my pitch.
I later gave her a written proposal, but that was just a formality. She made her decision during our discussion of alternatives to her Shark Tank idea.
Her event, which I ended up facilitating, was a big success and fun for all, including both of us.
Great Pitching Rule #3. You Can’t Guarantee the Outcome, So You Might as Well Relax and Have Fun
Here are some reasons why even the best pitch might not win:
“The fix is in” (surprise, the boss’s nephew got the job!)
Decisions are made by budget alone (you bid $3.99 more than someone else? too bad!)
Your pitch doesn’t quite match what they want, and someone else’s did
Your pitch exactly matches what they want, but they’re not “ready” to move on it yet (and they won’t be for the next three years), etc.
Your idea is brilliant, but the downside risk scares off decision-makers, etc.
There are many reasons why you might not get a “yes” when you pitch — but your job is to go in there and give it all you’ve got anyway!
And since the one thing you can control (besides the quality of your work) is attitude, make sure to keep yours upbeat, positive, and focused on having a good interaction with whoever you’re pitching.
The Winning Attitude for a Pitch: Focus on the Gift
You wouldn’t go into a presentation thinking,
I have to impress them!
That kind of desperate, self-pressuring thought can weigh you down, or trip you up.
For the same reason, don’t go into a pitch thinking,
I have to persuade them!
Instead, focus on the gift you’re giving to your listeners. (Yes, your ideas are a gift to them!) Pretend this is just a regular conversation, and do what you probably do when you’re just talking to people you like:
Smile at them,
Chat with them,
Look for common ground,
Listen to what they need.
And while you’re at it, give them a sample of how you would go about solving their problem!