How do you handle a rude customer? Some of the worst advice I’ve ever seen on this topic showed up in an unexpected place recently.
I’m a regular reader of Geoffrey James’ “Sales Source” column in Inc. Magazine. I agree with his advice sometimes, and disagree at other times. When I disagree, it is usually with the belief that his point of view has some merit.
Not this time.
In James’ column How To Handle a Rude Prospect he tells the story of a customer who’d stopped responding to emails.
Because I’m something of an expert of sales emails, my business manager asked my advice. He framed the question as follows: “how can we get him to reply to our emails so we can set up the meeting and win him as a new customer?”
However, I framed the question differently: “Why would we want to work with a jerk who suddenly stops answering emails?” Either he’s being rude, he’s a procrastinator, or he’s just plain incompetent. Or some combination of all three. Who needs that?
So, rather than suggesting techniques to get a response (which I can almost always get), I sent the prospect this short email:
I just wanted you to know that since you’re not answering our emails I’ve concluded that you’re not the kind of person with whom I’d be comfortable working.
Here’s the problem with this tactic: it requires the ability to read the prospect’s mind — the mind of a person James had never met. Otherwise, he was just guessing at the reason for the silence.
Perhaps James guessed correctly: the prospect was being rude, a procrastinator, or incompetent.
But it’s also possible something else was going on in the client’s world that made it difficult or impossible to respond.
- A major reorganization at the office.
- An unexpected project dumped in his lap from above.
- A death or serious illness in his family.
Any of these things — or something else entirely — could have moved a meeting with James’ company from the top of the priority list to the very bottom.
Rather than try to find out what it was, James responded to perceived rudeness with genuine rudeness, and burned the whole bridge down.
He’s fine with that.
Bottom line: you don’t want to ‘win’ a customer who will be rude or abusive. Therefore, you should immediately and irrevocably cut off contact with a prospect the moment that prospect acts in a rude or inconsiderate manner.”
James and his company had plenty of other options. It was a great opportunity to use Chris Lytle’s extremely effective “Quick Question” email.
They could even have stopped calling for a while, concentrated on more immediate opportunities, and then tried again three months down the road.
Instead, James went out of his way to turn a maybe-prospect into an enemy.
Before we burn down bridges and ruin everyone’s day, just a quick moment to wonder, “what if there was something misunderstood?”
It’s a lot easier to ask than it is to go to all the trouble of breaking things.” — Seth Godin
A while back I made a presentation to the partner of a law firm. The guy spent the entire meeting glancing at me and texting on his phone. His evident rudeness ticked me off, but I held my tongue.
There was something I didn’t know, and when I found out what it was my irritation turned to gratitude and respect. You can read about what I learned here.
Here’s my bottom line: what seems like rudeness may have another explanation. Before you set fire to the relationship, it behooves you to find out.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Question: What’s your best advice for dealing with a rude client? You can leave a comment by clicking here.