Trick or Treat: How to Face Your Big Scary Customer this Halloween

It happens at night in business. Whether it’s the customer who has the ear of the CEO and keeps sending unnerving emails up the food chain or the one that has alarming expectations and spine chilling deadlines – many of us have run into hair-raising customer situations. Some ideas from Halloween on how to deal with them:

Costume Up

The first trick to resolving scary customer situations is to pretend to be the other side. Dress up in your customer persona – but not that dusty one in a PowerPoint somewhere. Put yourself in their shoes by going after the why behind where you are today. What were the different interactions with your employees up and down the chain? How long has the customer had outstanding requests? What happened in their personal lives when your product failed – did it cause them to lose their bonus? Did it bring them humiliation internally?

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.’

–Marie Curie

Pull out the Props

When trust has been broken on either side, and the relationships and exchanges are testy, what often works is sharing objective data sans emotion. For example, put effort into creating an exhaustive list of all customer requests – when they were made, whether they were responded to or not. Copy paste old email chains into a PowerPoint. Pull facts on product downtime or defects. Create a ‘chronology of events’

The trick is to avoid ‘recommendations’ or excuses but just unemotionally lay out what has happened to get everyone on either side on the same page.

This does 2 things – First, it brings out patterns and solutions for your team.

Second, it communicates to the customer, the effort your team is putting into the relationship and that you are ready to start afresh, without avoiding the past.

Go out and be flawed

In the 4th most popular TED Talk of all times, researcher Brene Brown talks of the power of being daring greatly, or going out in the arena and exposing ourselves to failure and criticism.

In many B2B situations, we often wait for the perfect moment, the next best launch or a fully buttoned up solution before reaching out to customer, letting issues fester, driving down morale and potentially putting a customer relationship at risk.

Even when we meet the customer we ignore the elephant in the room and pontificate on the next great vision.

Kind of like the ridicule and laughs we (potentially) expose ourselves to by dressing up, another neat trick to resolving scary customer situations is to actually make the call or face the client and put the prickly issues on the table.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

Don’t forget the treats

Once you’ve had an open discussion, pull out the treats.

So you can’t go back and incorporate the 100 product enhancements suggested by your big customer and you can certainly not meet the optimistic deadlines put out by the sales teams. But what are concrete quick wins can you offer? Are there non-product fixes that can help? Is the problem clearer communication? Is there a feeling of being disrespected or not being heard that need to be overcome not through deadlines but concrete changes? Will prioritizing the 2 biggest demands make up for a delay in the remaining 98? How can you make it win – win for the client and your team?