Tag: customers

By Nomzamo Radebe, CEO of Excellerate JHI

There can be no doubt that digital processes and technology will underpin future retail, but what does this really mean for local brands and companies? Arguably, the first step towards future-proofing retail is to understand what the customer of the future looks like.

Today, with endless information at their fingertips, consumers are well informed, demanding, and in a rush. And while many ‘gurus’ have foretold the death of the brick and mortar store, consumers continue to go to malls for both shopping and entertainment. Essentially, retailers and property development partners have to balance out contradictory messages and trends: are they preparing for a digitally driven environment with e-commerce at the centre? Or must retailers find a way to merge hyper-connected, digital habits with physical shopping experiences?

Seamlessly connected, 24/7

As of 2017, there were 3.4 billion global Internet users, which equates to 46% of the population, according to Euromonitor. By 2022, that figure will reach 58%. Along with more people becoming connected, more ‘things’ will become connected – with devices of all kinds constantly generating and sharing data. Yes, this is the Internet of Things (IoT), which will become fundamental to individual lives and purchasing habits. In homes, connected fridges will automatically send notifications when certain things are running low – and may even send a grocery list directly to the owner’s device.

For retailers, the rise of the Internet of Things and overall hyper connectivity means that consumers will be very specific in what they are looking for – and will demand that the retail experience deliver on their needs both seamlessly and instantaneously. Retailers will have to harness technology, including IoT, to create a ‘friction-free’ environment. For instance, the use of chatbots can make sure that when consumers are online they receive immediate and data-driven feedback or help.

Embracing cash-free living

With the enormous popularity of cash-free or cashless services such as Uber and Lyft, even credit and debit cards are beginning to look obsolete. Already, some analysts are forecasting the shift towards an entirely cashless society – and consumers are increasingly demonstrating their keenness to ditch cash. In South Africa, many are already leaving their wallets at home as smartphones become the new [digital] wallet. According to a study by PayPal, 85% of respondents used their mobile phones to make a purchase in 2017, and 46% said being able to shop on their mobile phones has made them buy more. Tellingly, the majority of South Africans would rather leave home without their wallets than leave home without their beloved device.

Conscious living, conscious shopping

With dramatic climate change now firmly on the global agenda, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental impact – which includes their shopping habits. According to research firm J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, ‘consumers expect brands to be sustainable and are willing to pay more to support those that are.’ In a 2018 study titled New Sustainability, the firm stated that 89% of those surveyed ‘care personally’ about protecting the planet; 92% said they are trying to live more sustainably, while 83% would always pick the brand that has a better record of sustainability.

With digital transformation now becoming a global business imperative, local retailers will have to ensure that their digital strategies closely reflect the evolving needs – and values – of their customers.

The true cost of customers’ online experiences

By Charlie Stewart for Roger Wilco

By 2021, over 20-million South Africans will shop online. This is a third of the country’s population. But, while the commercial opportunity is obvious – currently eCommerce accounts for R14-billion of the total retail pie, or 1,4% – local brands aren’t taking full advantage. So reveals The Cost of Online CX: A R34-billion Opportunity, 2019 South African Digital Customer Experience Report. Commissioned by performance marketing agency, Rogerwilco, it was released today.

Among key findings the study found that 71% of South African online shoppers abandon a purchase at the digital tillpoint. The commercial cost of this for local e-marketers is staggering accounting for a loss of around R34-billion* worth of goods per annum.

So what’s going wrong? According to online South Africans, payment failure is a big issue (57%), while site speed (38%), being unable to find what they are looking for (37%) and difficulty in navigating the site (27%) all impact the likelihood of an end sale.

“Brands are hell bent on brand building and client acquisition – at the detriment of conversion. I see brands throwing heaps of money to get people to their sites and then they spend less on creating an ideal environment when they get there. If they curb their acquisition budget and put it into the very fundamental elements to give it a better experience, they will convert more customers,” says Charlie Stewart, CEO of Rogerwilco.


Provide a helping hand – or bot

Customer service and support is also a big pain point, with over half of those surveyed saying that there is no-one to help them when they get stuck. “There needs to be an improved on-demand support for customers and also brands need to look at why customers need help to make online purchases in the first place – you shouldn’t need a support service if the experience works. What is failing in the customer journey that is causing customers to feel that they need support? This is a big red flag. Digital shouldn’t be a channel where you need customer service, it should be seamless self-service,” comments Julia Ahlfeldt, a Certified Customer Experience Professional.

Chatbots might well be the answer, although there are some misperceptions about what a chatbot is. “Businesses can address this by creating a persona that has some human traits which make it more relatable. Anything that can ease the journey is a good thing,” says Stewart. “Doing so can lead to a 30% saving in customer service costs. Furthermore, chatbots are bringing in the bacon; it is estimated that by 2023 retail sales via chatbots will account for $112-billion.”

Despite the commercial opportunity, bots aren’t every brand’s best friend, yet. “A percentage of our Customer Service queries can be solved using AI, but the majority can’t – highly personalised recommendations are an important part of our offering. Over time we intend to build a repository of information that will enable AI chatbots to deliver at a similar standard, but this is years away. Will a chatbot be able to talk a customer through the essentials for a summit of Kilimanjaro; it will take time before it can really understand customer needs,” comments Cape Union Mart’s Kia Abbott.

Better experiences = better returns

When brands do get it right, 44,5% of consumers report that they’ll spend more online. This also increases in relation to higher incomes; almost 60% of those who earn over R30 000 a month said they will buy more from a brand if the online experience is a good one.

“We consistently see that customers who have a seamless experience on our platform spend more money with us, so it makes clear commercial sense to continue to identify and remove points of friction. This can be as simple as enabling buyers to set up alerts so they are notified as soon as a product they’re looking for becomes available and having automated prompts that guide advertisers on how to categorise their products with tools that rate the quality of the images that accompany their ads,” comments Gumtree’s digital marketing manager Michael Walker.

Up against the best in the world

Notwithstanding site speed, good navigation and customer support, local brands are also being compared to international giants like Uber and Amazon, whose apps often sit side-by-side local brands. “Look at anyone’s mobile phone screen and it’s likely you’ll see local and international brands’ apps sitting side by side,” says ovatoyou’s Amanda Reekie. “Consumers dip in and out of these brands all day long, switching from Uber to News24 or Netflix to Takealot in milliseconds. And they expect a seamless experience across all of their apps; there is no differentiation in their minds between South African and global brands – they all need to work as well as each other.”

To overcome this brands must invest more in their apps’ usability to make sure that the experience is intuitive and not only be as good as their nearest competitor but as good as Uber.

Face to face

While banking online or via an app is the most common reason why consumers are online in the first place, with 85% of the sample reporting they use the platform for this reason, not everything can be fulfilled online; consumers still want a degree of physical contact, especially with financial services.

“When considering our customer journey, across income groups, consumers prefer to engage with us through human-manned channels. They’re comfortable with searching for information in the first part of their journey, when looking for options to meet their needs, however when they get to the buying phase they seem to be hesitant to make that in a digital environment and they want to fulfil the buying decision in a human environment, such as a call centre or face to face. This is a nuance of financial services as people tend to like human touch points,” comments a CX expert from a leading insurance provider.

Reinforcing this preference for a human over machine, 37% of those surveyed said it’s easier to go into a store or a bank branch.

Vicious venting

If customers don’t get what they want online, they are very quick to bad mouth a brand: a whopping 99% of consumers said they would tell friends and family about their ordeals. “In a world where people rely more and more on advice and recommendations from friends and family – and that then influences them as to where they spend their money – these experiences are more powerful than above the line marketing; you believe your friend over an ad. For existing brands, if there are negative experiences out there it just piles onto the brand. People still talk about experiences that happened years ago; it’s hurting you today and will hurt you tomorrow. On the other hand, those that had a good experience leads to a repurchase (44,5%). I think that if brands can look at this and understand this, that if I deliver a good experience, then 44% will spend more and recommend to friends and family, what is the knock-on effect of this? Bad experiences are the silent killer; you don’t feel the pain until it’s too late,” says Ahlfeldt.

Getting it right

While there are no quick fixes, brands that have online platforms, can and should address common consumer challenges. “Given the rate at which South Africans are coming online and using the digital platform to engage with and buy from brands, businesses should be investing far more than the average 10 – 24% of their marketing budget on their sites, to prevent them throwing billions of Rands down the drain thanks to high incidences of shopping cart abandonment!
“Site speed, good UX, offering customer support and making sure products are available online are all relatively easy things that brands can do to improve their customers’ experience and which when implemented will significantly increase consumer loyalty, return visits and ultimately sales.”

How to recognise the lies customers tell

Source: Sales Guru

A white lie here, a fib there …

Just how honest is your prospect being with you?

We uncovered the top 5 lies favoured by your prospect. They’re naughty, but here’s how to play the lying game the professional way.

Lie 5: We don’t have the budget
Almost never true, lie 5 really means “we have the budget, but it’s been assigned to other projects with higher priority”.

Your move: Ask questions to find out where the money is currently being spent. Once you’ve discovered what’s funded and why to reposition your offering and the value it provides so that it becomes a higher priority than budget items that are currently funded.

Lie 4: I make all the buying decisions
NEVER does ONE executive make all the buying decisions. There is always consultation with others or a decision-making process that needs to be followed.

Your move: Ask about the specific reporting structure and gently probe to find out the “stakeholders” who “influence” the decision. Read between the lines and you’ll probably be able to figure out which people actually have to be sold in order for a deal to go through.

Lie 3: Your competition is cheaper OR we always get a discount
This may be true, or it may not be true. Either way, don’t fall for this popular tactic – it’s simply meant to entice you to drop your prices.

Your move: Position your offering, and the privilege of working with you and your company, as being of much higher value than working with your competitor. If they’re demanding a discount, they’re testing to see whether they ‘got the best deal’. If you do indeed drop the price, you’ll lose credibility and end up cutting a non-profitable deal. Both loses, and no wins (for you).

Lie 2: I’m sorry I missed our meeting
If they miss a meeting more than once, then there’s no way that they’re telling the truth. Fact is, they may want to blow you off and they don’t have the courage to say so.

Your move: Once you’ve calmed down, reassess the viability of meeting with the client again and try to schedule another rendezvous if you think it’s worth it (it’s almost always worth it).

Lie 1: She’s not in the office right now
If you’re cold calling, this is almost undoubtedly a lie – fed to you by the PA or receptionist or similar gatekeeper.
But the gatekeeper is just doing their job: keeping you away from the decision-maker.

Your move: Pretend that it’s true, always, and remain calm. Ask when would be a good time to call. You may need to sell the gatekeeper on the idea that your call is important enough to put through.

By Roxanne Henderson for Business Day

From free burgers and ride-hailing services to hip-hop concerts and discounted petrol, SA banks are going all out to win customers as competition hots up.

The biggest lenders are facing an onslaught of entrants for the first time in 12 years. And they are responding before the newcomers find their feet by pushing loyalty programmes, revamping digital offerings for technology-savvy millennials, targeting existing customers with extra products and services and cutting fees.

Read the full article here: https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/companies/financial-services/2019-04-24-banks-entice-millennials-with-free-food-and-new-offerings/

By Daniel Cooper for Engadget

Problematic transportation outfit Uber is thinking about a way to use your phone to determine if you’ve been drinking. A patent application was uncovered by CNN, entitled “Predicting user state using machine learning,” which outlines the general idea. Essentially, by watching how you behave day-to-day, the system can pick up when your behavior is normal (for you) or abnormal. That could be, for instance, how you use your phone, the angle at which you hold it, and even how you’re walking.

Obviously there are some common sense elements to this, too, especially if you’re requesting a ride in the small hours from a notorious night spot. The thinking is that drivers will be fed this information ahead of you boarding the vehicle to better prepare them for what’s coming. A cynical reading of the plans could mean that drivers choose not to pick up a ride from a drunk passenger to avoid trouble. That would likely mean they’re left fending for themselves or, worse still, choose to drive themselves instead.

Of course, patent applications are mostly the province of companies wealthy enough to devote such time to dreaming up new ideas. Wacky concepts and ideas are patented all the time in the hope that, in years to come, they prove to be both useful and profitable. There’s no indication that this system is going to pop up in Uber’s customer-facing app in the near future, although it certainly could do.

85% of FNB customer interactions are digital

The vast majority of First National Bank’s (FNB’s) customer interactions are via digital platforms, with only 1.2% still happening face-to-face in branches.

This is according to Christoph Nieuwoudt, FNB consumer segment CEO, who says in 2016, FNB customers had over 10 billion interactions with the bank, of which only 120 million were face-to-face.

The bank says roughly 8.5 billion (85%) of interactions were purely through digital channels and the rest via point-of-sale (card swipes or online purchases) and ATM transactions.

“The number of FNB customer interactions has tripled since 2010, growing at more than 20% per annum every year, based on the growth in digital channels. Meanwhile, at branches, customers are making significant use of in-branch digital zones,” adds Nieuwoudt.
“One thing we can all agree on is that digital progress is inevitable.”

He says the implications of the use of technology by society are immensely profound, with terms such as “The Second Machine Age” or the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” being used to give this evolution a name.

“The reasons for the growth and migration of volumes to digital are obvious as almost every customer knows they can do basically any payment transaction, account or card service function and get most products…via the FNB app, online or cellphone banking,” he says.

However, Nieuwoudt says this does not mean branches will go out of business. He notes branches and branch personnel are no less critical than before, but their role has changed from performing transactions to re-focusing on sales and advising customers on how to bank.

“In spite of the powerful digital technology, today the bulk of banking consumers still want to talk to someone when opening a new account and even for most product categories.

“Additionally, consumers often need help with the new technology, even just to get going and start using it.

“In most cases, branches can be much smaller, but with more room for digital zones and self-service devices such as ATMs and ADTs (deposit-taking machines). This journey is not unique to banking – virtually every sales or service business is or will be going through some elements of digital transformation.”

Nieuwoudt also says that today only a very small percentage of credit decisions are made by people – rather statistical models are used to make fully automated decisions instantly at low cost and with accuracy not achievable by a person.

“This means your risk profile and behaviour determines your loan size and pricing. Importantly, technology has helped reduce fraud loss rates for card and digital transactions,” concludes Nieuwoudt.

Source: IT Web

South Africa’s recession means households had less and less to spend, but the number one supermarket group in the country, Shoprite, is adopting an unlikely strategy: targeting upmarket shoppers.

Lower-income families who formed Shoprite’s core customer base were cutting back on spending, but the wealthy remained undented by the economic downturn.

In a bid to retain its leading industry position, the discount retailer’s new boss was driving business hard into the higher-margin niche dominated by rival Woolworths.

The stage was set for a turf war to win the hearts, minds and wallets of South Africa’s richest two million households — and ultimately, pre-eminence in the supermarket sector.

Shoprite CEO Pieter Engelbrecht told Reuters that growth lied in affluent areas and customers.

“A lot of those (wealthier) customers, two million of them, actually frequent our stores already, but not exclusively,” he said in an interview.

“Our job is to get a better share of their wallets when they are in our stores and then impress them so that they come back again.”

Shoprite was doubling its offering of the kind of high-end convenience foods that Woolworths built its reputation on – from gourmet lamb shanks and oxtail stew to teriyaki-and-ginger basted pork ribs.

Its range would reach around 500 products by the end of this year, Engelbrecht said.

These products typically cost about R200 for a meal for four — 10 times the minimum wage of R20 an hour as set by new labour laws making their way through Parliament.

As part of the drive to expand its range, Engelbrecht said Shoprite had upgraded its food technology and development facilities, and gone on a hiring spree for food developers and technologists.

The company planned to open 23 new outlets of its higher-end Checkers chain of stores, mostly in wealthy suburbs such as Waterfall City north of Johannesburg.

New Checkers stores and established ones that had been refurbished resembled Woolworths outlets with sparse lighting and wood-panelled sections boasting extensive wine and gourmet coffee selections, as well as counters selling quality selections of cheese and meat.

‘I love Woolies’

But how will Woolworths defend a market that delivered handsome profits for the company?

When asked about Shoprite’s push into upmarket convenience food, Woolworths said that it had an “incredibly valuable emotional connection” with its customers.

“Retail is a dynamic environment and the competition in the grocery and food market category means that we will always keep a watching brief on our competitors’ activities,” it added.

“We conduct weekly basket checks against the prices of competitors to ensure that our prices are comparable.”

It was a tall order for Shoprite to break Woolworths’ stranglehold.

“They (Woolworths) have been good at introducing new products and other innovations in line with consumer trends and feedback,” said Old Mutual Invest food retail analyst Kaya Nodada.

If Shoprite was to prevail, it would have to win over shoppers like JF Fourie.

“I love Woolies. The microwave meals are a bit overpriced, but they are tasty,” the 28-year-old who works in marketing said in the Woolworths branch in eastern Pretoria as she added shimeji mushrooms to the baby brinjals in her basket.

Fourie – a big fan of Gordon Ramsay – said she would need some convincing about the quality of Shoprite’s products, but would give it a go because Checkers adverts feature the British celebrity chef.

“I like the chef and he hates airplane food,” she adds.

“He’s fussy and I am too.”

 

http://www.supermarket.co.za

Customers from hell – part 3

Nobody likes dealing with miserable people, and in parts 1 and 2 of this series we looked at how important issues of self-image and self-esteem created unhappiness and obnoxious behaviour. I also discussed that there are serious consequences that both you and the unfortunate other party have to deal with when we are unable to resolve problems and complaints effectively. In this final article I want to share some more practical ideas for dealing with these.

In any “customer from hell” situation, we need to assume that you have made all efforts to deal reasonably with the unhappiness. An easy way to remember what to do is summarised in the acronym LESTER.

• Listen carefully to what the unhappy customer is complaining about
• Empathise with them
• Say sorry and apologise
• Thank them for bringing it to your attention, and for having the courage to complain rather than just bad-mouthing your business, defecting to a rival, or worse. And then, when they are calm
• Explore options and explain what you can do, and finally
• Rectify the problem with a win:win solution, (following up to make sure it was truly resolved.)

But we are not dealing with normal, unhappy customers and their complaints and problems in this article. We are discussing the emotional, irrational, illogical and unreasonable customers from hell that don’t respond to all of your efforts to help them. You must be able to protect yourself from such individuals, because of the awful effect that they have on you. That one person that you have to deal with makes you forget the other 99% of nice people that you deal with on a day-to-day basis. The terrible memories of this encounter will stay vividly in your mind for a very long time. It makes work very unpleasant, and is demoralising and demotivating for everyone involved. Most importantly, it starts eating away at your own confidence, esteem and self-worth.

There are a few choices that you have in dealing with these customers…

• Laugh it off: Not always easy, but remember it’s mostly their problem, not yours. Of course, they will do their best to get you caught up in their problem – and their dramas.

• Just accept their behaviour, and allow the abuse to continue. It may be that this customer from hell is too important to your business, or has too much power for you to deal with. I don’t like this option, however, because if you allow the abuse to continue, it will continue, and maybe get even worse. More importantly what about the effect that this has on you? If you have no choice, protect yourself from these individuals by talking to somebody, or by taking out your frustrations somehow. Remember that ships don’t sink because of the water around them… They sink because of the water that gets in them. Are you going to allow this to happen in your life, and allow things to weigh you down? Do anything to let it go. Alternatively, just laugh it off.

• Confront with equal aggression: also not a good choice most of the time, because they will not like it, and the resulting consequences may be even worse. Also, don’t forget that passive aggression where you come up with creative ways of taking revenge on them or putting them down, is just as bad as real aggression.

• Confront assertively, by interrupting them in a firm voice to say something like this: “Mr. Smith, I want to help you, but I can’t do that while you are aggressive/abusive/shouting at me. Will you allow me to do so?” This is particularly important when customers become abusive and threaten you, bully you, insult you or even get physically violent. You need to be able to “draw a line in the sand” so to speak, and to let them know that their behaviour is not acceptable.

• Put the ball in their court. You may want to try this out: tell them that you have now come to the point where you have exhausted all of your options. You have tried everything in your power to help them, and they have not responded. “What do you want me to do?” There are three possible answers to this question. First, they may tell you what they want, and it’s impossible for you to do that, so you are going to have to say “No.” Second, they may tell you what they want, and you are able to respond to that, in which case do it and move on. But there is also a third possibility: they don’t respond, because they can’t think of anything else that you can do. At this stage, they may come to the realization that you have done your best, but don’t expect them to readily admit that. But at least they may become more reasonable.

• Cut the anchor: let them go. This is a tricky one, and we suggest that you check it out with your manager first. But if the abuse is becoming too much for you to deal with, you could say something like: “Mr. Jones, I am uncomfortable with all of the swearing and insults that you are shouting at me. With the greatest respect to you, I am now going to walk away, (or put the telephone down. Goodbye” And then walk away or put the telephone down softly. (In fact, pass them onto your competitors!) Don’t wrestle with pigs. It will get you all muddy and the pigs will love it.
• Just keep trying to sort it out, whatever it takes. If you do manage to turn them around, and you keep trying everything you can to turn them around, you may find a customer for life. What often helps is if you in fact tell them that you will not give up on them, ever.

Some final thoughts

• It’s obvious that you need a really great sense of humour to be able to deal with these abusive customers, and, as one author put it, “A thick skin is a gift from God.”

• David may have fought Goliath – but he didn’t choose to wrestle him. Choose your battles carefully

• Don’t take things personally. Remember that what people say is more a reflection of them, their reality, not a reflection of you.

• Be kind to unkind people – they need it the most

I’d like to end off with a line from one of my favourite lines from the poem “If,” written by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’, and blaming it on you…
Then yours is the earth and everything that’s on it.

By Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of Leadership Launchpad

In part 1 last month, I wrote that poor self-esteem and self-confidence are the biggest barriers to being assertive and dealing with customers from hell.

In fact, many of the inappropriate behaviours that we see in others, and in ourselves, come from this one source. It is an unfortunate fact that people suffering from low self-esteem may display some or all of the following behaviours:

  1. Shooting from the hip. In other words speaking before thinking, saying things they will regret and have to apologise for later. People like this feel self-pity, are short-tempered, tend to overreact, and rationalise their behaviour.
  2. Gossiping. A gossiper has low self-esteem and by gossiping about others, their feeling of powerlessness decreases. Such a person may become the trouble-maker of the office or in their family.
  3. Attention-seeking. Attention elevates the person with low self-esteem, emotionally. They are “high maintenance” people who sap energy from others, often displaying inappropriate behaviours and almost always regretting it afterwards. They almost always end up feeling even worse about themselves.
  4. Withdrawal. Sometimes to the point of becoming anti-social. Unfortunately this exacerbates feelings of unworthiness. Other consequences include others seeing them as people who produce poor results, lack discipline, are introverted, even rude.
  5. Put themselves down. See obstacles and problems, not opportunities, turn down even small challenges and are very risk averse, sell themselves short, do things to please others, can’t say no even when it is greatly inconvenient, don’t express right choices, preoccupied with themselves, sometimes to the point of being selfish, resist change, and constantly speak negatively about themselves and their circumstances to others. They procrastinate a lot.
  6. Suffer from ill health, and even become hypochondriacs. They are overweight or anorexic, show signs of stress, nervousness and anxiety (like timidity and even open fear,) smoke, drink or take drugs excessively, are sexually promiscuous, seem to be excessively hyperactive or excessively tired/fatigued. Constantly focus on every twitch, ache or pain and letting people around them know that they are not well. Unfortunately people’s reactions and responses normally enable the hypochondriacs behaviour.
  7. Half empty cups. People suffering from low self-esteem and lack of confidence tend to be very negative and pessimistic about everything. They are risk averse and fearful, have a negative attitude, suffer from the “Yes, but….” Syndrome, appear indecisive, confused, or complacent, sometimes put on a show of bravado, but also seem withdrawn, disinterested, apathetic, or show a “Who cares” attitude.
  8. Unhappiness leads to other problems. They almost always feel unhappy, miserable and even depressed. They don’t take criticism easily, don’t want to take responsibility, sometimes aggressive, sometimes appear greedy, irresponsible, suspicious, reckless, impatient, emotional/tearful, obnoxious, and withdrawn. They give no positive strokes or recognition to others, but occasionally give excessive flattery which is rejected because it is so artificial and desperate.
  9. Hate-speech and foul language. Someone suffering from low self-esteem may speak ill of others to the point of hate-speech, and/or swear a lot. They are often excessively loud, and indulge in gossip, deceitfulness, jealousy and envy, criticism, blaming others, and looking for excuses. Insist on inappropriate jokes and comments, often resulting in inappropriate behaviour that others find offensive. Unfortunately their behaviour is often infectious in the workplace and they drag others down with them.

It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, does it? All of the symptoms and characteristics described above are symptoms of a poor self-image, which affects almost everything in life, and leads to many negative consequences.

Here are some practical steps that you can follow to remain calm – and deal with matters for a more favourable result:

1. Remember that your choice is not limited to expressing anger or not expressing anger: Sometimes you can use a supportive approach. For example, someone yells at you and barks orders for you to do something you feel is completely unprofessional. Say something like, “Is there something wrong, Pat? I know there must be, or you would never speak to me that way.”

2. When appropriate, make the deliberate decision not to express anger: Initially, expressing anger may make you feel important. There are times, however, when you cannot express your anger, such as when a frail old customer or an innocent child angers you, or when a traffic cop threatens you with arrest. But the opposite may also be true. It is often very therapeutic for the other person to let off a little bit of steam, to express their own frustration and anger. Allow them to vent if you think it is necessary, and pay no attention to the hurtful things that they say. We usually don’t mean the things that we say when we are angry.

3. Get some insight into the nature of the difficulty: Do this by putting yourself in their shoes and analysing the situation, your own emotions, and your behaviour. Armed with this information, you can then take charge of your reactions rather than letting your instincts control you. (As the HBR article mentioned, perhaps there is some historical event in your life that is triggered by what just happened.) Ask yourself questions like, “What are they really trying to say? Why did they overreact? What is the problem behind the question? Why are they hurting?” Maybe you were just there at the wrong time, but if you keep repeating that you can help them, a positive outcome is more likely.

4. Learn to deal with your own feelings, especially your anger: Before anything else, you have to want to keep calm. Deal with your anger in a manner that helps rather than hinders your success. Most important: What are you saying to yourself about yourself? The moment you start doubting yourself, you’re dead in the water. Don’t take it personally.

5. Some other self-calming strategies include deep breathing and counting to ten, doing some physical exercises, as well as consciously relaxing your shoulders and stomach muscles, looking for positive things in the negative, thinking humorous thoughts, writing things down so that you break off the glaring at each other behaviour, taking time out and postponing the discussion until both of you are calmer, be aware of your own voice, and speak slower, lower and softer, vent your own frustration in a “safe” place, (but not your family,) or pass the angry customer onto someone else who is more objective and neutral.

6. Spend time with the person you are confronting trying to understand the nature of their difficulties, and using your skills to manage their anger: Skills like empathy, clarifying and confirming, and longer conversations will help. Ask the other person to do you a favour and talk about exactly what sparked off their rage, and take it in turns not only to speak, but to also tell each other what you just heard. Focus on the behaviours that spark off the problem, not on attacking their personality, and especially avoid using names and labels. It’s not about naming, blaming and shaming.

7. Ensure that your interaction(s) achieve desirable results: Set a goal up front so that the other person knows where to aim. You can say something like: “I know this is hard for you, but I also know we will resolve this together in a way that makes you happy and I can live with.”

I can’t remember where I saw this, but it really resonates: “Today is but a blink in the greater scheme of the universe”. Move gracefully through difficult moments. Don’t get stuck there. Allow yourself to move through it. You can do this without depleting your energy reserves – simply by having the intention to do it. Remember, life is short. Make each day count and stop wasting your energy on negative thoughts, unproductive thinking about who said what to whom 10 years ago.

By Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of Leadership Launchpad

(In the final part of this series next month we will examine more practical ideas with dealing with customers from hell.)

Dealing with customers from hell

No less a respected journal than The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published an article entitled, Stay Calm When Someone Is Getting on Your Nerves. “Come on, HBR,” I thought to myself, “Is this the best you can do? Nothing like stating something that is so blindingly obvious!”

The basic theme of the article was that we all have people – and customers – who irritate us. People who interrupt, people who are filled with arrogance or sheer stupidity, people who are unreasonable, irrational, and emotional and who blame us personally for everything that is wrong in the world. And that excludes the anonymous people who post nasty things in the social media, and the self-important bullies who can only feel good about themselves if they put you down.

Then the authors write: “To help yourself, remain calm in these situations, acknowledge your emotions and think through why you’re reacting the way you are. For example, you might get angry about being interrupted because it was a major problem at your last job or in a prior personal relationship. Don’t let those associations control you…”

And yet… if an esteemed publication like the HBR feels a need to publish such an article, maybe it’s because most people don’t get it. You are definitely going to occasionally get the “customer from hell.” You may have tried all of the best strategies in the world, maybe even used some of the hints for dealing with complaints, problems and anger covered in one of my previous columns.

There are probably only a handful of responses to people like this, but I have to completely agree that it all starts with you. Whenever I see bad behaviour, whenever I see people troubled in their lives, or whenever there is some conflict or event that challenges all of the things that glue society together, then the first place I look is at the self-esteem.

Why is it true that some people let the smallest thing spark off rage, while others seem to be able to remain calm, no matter what happens? When someone needs to behave in this obnoxious, aggressive and hurtful way, what are they saying about themselves? It’s because they feel weak and vulnerable and insecure. I know the times when I flash a fist at a taxi driver, or snap at someone, or slam a door, those are not the times when I feel good about myself, happy with who I am, and when I just know that the world is just a great, forgiving, generous abundant place. They are the times when I feel fearful, hurt, and out of control. (Under different circumstances when they aren’t attacking you, you may even feel sorry for the customers from hell.)

If we paint the opposite picture, it becomes even more obvious: people who feel optimistic, positive, and who like themselves don’t need to behave like this. They are generous, kind, sensitive, empathetic and helpful towards others.

So how should you deal with your own negative feelings? Many people believe – incorrectly – that bad emotions are always dangerous and powerful. If we express these feelings openly, then we’ll be less popular, lose someone’s love and admiration, or provoke someone’s anger, boredom or dislike. This – being liked by everybody all of the time – is unrealistic. People also believe – and also incorrectly – that it’s unhealthy or dishonest to try to control how they express their feelings. They believe that they have a right, indeed a responsibility, to let people aggressively know how they feel in any manner they choose, no matter what the circumstances or the consequences.

Therefore, there are only two ways we can deal with bad emotions: repress them or express them in the form in which we experience them, that is, negatively. Both of these can be pretty destructive. Repressing your negative feelings happens in one of two ways: denial, (“I can’t admit having these negative emotions,”) or suppression, (“I know how I feel, but I can’t think of a constructive way to express these feelings, so I won’t display them.”) If you do this, you know that you may be sparing others, but hurting yourself. But if you don’t deal with these feelings, they won’t go away. Instead, they show themselves in some of the following symptoms: depression, physical illness, (including headaches, stiff muscles, insomnia, eating disorders, ulcers and even heart attacks,) low self-esteem, emotional withdrawal, (we become apathetic, unenthusiastic, indifferent and uninvolved, just going through the motions,) and even recourse to drugs and alcohol, (we seek escape through substance abuse.)

Destructive expression, on the other hand, can also hurt the recipients and alienate people from you. Moody people thus become isolated from others, often lashing out at the nearest target, and feeling terrible afterwards. They show some of the following behaviours: temper tantrums, (childish, inappropriate, and uncontrolled anger that can be triggered by even trivial things – some of them going back years and years,) sulking and “the silent treatment,” (in which they refuse to explain why they are upset,) and sarcasm, (because they are reluctant to confront the cause of their bad mood directly.) In groups we sometimes call these “passive aggressive” behaviours.

Remember that we have already established the fact that defensive behaviour does not help. Yes, criticism is hard to accept especially when you work hard, when you are trying to please people, and when you feel it is unjustified. It is hurtful. But trying to justify your behaviour, or even trying to shift the blame or prove that the other person is wrong, is futile. They will all be rejected by the other person unless you have worked through all of the conflict and anger.

Of course you have a right to feel anger and express it sometimes. Anger doesn’t have to lead to violence or more anger. Your goal is to learn to deal with anger more constructively, not to ignore it or to repress it. Also, don’t rationalise your reluctance to express anger. Excuses like, “I won’t say anything because I’ll hurt the other person’s feelings,” are ways of explaining to yourself why you don’t do what you have never learned to do. Instead of dwelling on the reasons why you don’t express anger, concentrate on learning how to do it.

There’s a lovely legend I’d like to end off with: One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Goodness – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

If you feel strong, confident, secure, and have good self-esteem, you will be able to deal with unhappy and abusive people, no matter what they throw at you. This is the big secret of keeping yourself calm.

In part 2 of this series we will look at some of the practical things you can do to calm down upset customers.

By Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of Leadership Launchpad

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