Have you ever encountered a difficult customer that you weren’t able to satisfy no matter what you did to try and appease them? One of my clients had a large number of these customers. It seemed that frequently when he got a job completed he was stuck waiting for payment due to the unrealistic demands these customers had. He wanted to know what he was doing to attract these customers, how he could avoid it, and possibly determine how he could identify them before he began doing business with them.
Can you build a system to identify difficult clients he asked? The answer is yes, if you are prepared to use some psychology and are willing to invest the time in disqualifying your prospective customers
Jacques Werth is a professional sales trainer who has authored a book and a website on what he calls High Probability Selling[highprobsell.com]. Just before I started doing coaching full time I went through his long distance training classes. The intention of his program is to teach you how to sell by identifying only high probable prospects, reducing the stress that cold calling usually involves. While the prospecting process is valuable the conversion process where teaches you how to eliminate prospects who are likely to be your “worst” customer is invaluable.
If you’ve studied psychology you may know some of the methods for identifying conflict behavior. Usually at the first counseling session a psychiatrist will ask questions of the patient to determine whether or not they have an unresolved conflict. The intention is to uncover this so they can begin helping the patient put this to rest since it is usually the source of their challenges.
For a business, identifying prospects that have an unresolved conflict is the first order of business in order to eliminate those prospects that upon becoming customers become your worst nightmare.
To identify this type of behavior requires a methodology of questioning that moves the prospect back to their childhood, somewhere between 4-9 years of age where you ask specific questions regarding their relationships with their father, mother and/or siblings. In doing so you unravel how they responded to and resolved conflicts. When you discover a conflict that hasn’t been completely resolved, meaning the prospect still has animosity toward their relative you have successfully identified someone you shouldn’t be doing business with.
Why? Because prospects who have unresolved conflicts are doing what? They are trying to resolve them with whomever they come in conflict with. That’s why they are so difficult to deal with. They can not resolve the conflict with anyone but the person they had it with originally yet they constantly try to do so with whomever they are dealing with. They are contrarians, and almost any act will cause them to respond oppositely since they want to prove they are right and you [person they are still conflicted with] are wrong.
The process for identifying this behavior takes about 10-15 minutes or longer depending on your experience, and Jacques calls this the Trust and Respect Process. It’s interesting since if you do a quick survey of clients you had your most success with you will find that they rank the highest on a scale when judging them on how much you trust and respected them, and vice versa.
I recall starting to do business with a landscaping business. The business owner had an unresolved conflict with his mother, frankly it was pretty nasty they way he spoke about her and how they dealt with each other. He was angry at her for not helping him out more in his business and this had apparently been spawned since early childhood. While I followed my process for identifying this behavior, at the time I must have felt I needed the business more than I needed to trust my instincts.
About 3 months into our relationship he no longer wanted to be a client, and frankly I no longer wanted him. I discovered he was constantly having conflicts with employees, his fiancé, his vendors and customers. I’ve discovered he has since went out of business, and started a new company.
Had I trusted the “Trust & Respect” Process I could have avoided a lot of conflict, personal challenges and spent my time working with more productive customers. In fact if you own a business and run into a prospect like this one of the best things you can do is recommend them to a competitor of yours you don’t like. Your competitor will have nothing but problems, tying up valuable resources and making everyone in their businesses miserable until they can somehow extradite themselves for working with this customer.
You can discover which customers are good and which will cause you challenges with a little time and the right process. Sometimes when we are in business we unknowingly decide to cheat our customers. Doesn’t sound possible? There is a term called bad profits which Fred Reichheld discusses in his book The Ultimate Question. I’ll discuss that in my next blog and alert you to a practice that many large companies do, which costs them a great deal in customer loyalty and growth for the business.