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Best Practices

Support – Empathy – Truth

You are a Champion!

This comment is not meant to be political (just an observation) about Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. He used to be on the Board of Directors for a company I worked for and I bet they miss him very much. No matter what you may think about our current political situation I would like to make a comment about the vast difference I see in Robert Gates and how he differs from other high level politicians. I’ve watched him several times before Congress on C-Span and his ability in this area (Title of the article) I consider to be amazing, and I suspect he has the respect of several people who “strongly” disagree with him and the direction of the war. Take some time to watch him before Congress–you may be amazed too. His humility and lack of anger (empathy) comes across. Here are his paraphrased comments responding to a Representative trying to come down hard on him about a particular issue: “I’m really concerned about the issue you have raised and the Defense Department really needs your help (the help of Congress) in resolving this matter. I agree with your concerns.”

You tell me, how would you go about arguing with his comment other than – thank you Mr. Secretary?

I’ve quoted Marion Luna Brem, Women Make the Best Salesmen, several times so here I go again:


“I’ve seen more than a few hotheads in my time. No car owner is happy about their automobile breaking down. But some customers get hotter than their overheated engine. It’s tough to deal with someone who’s demonstrating an extremely low level of rationality. But it can be done.

First and foremost, keep your cool. Having raised two sons, I draw on my experience as a mother. Screaming and yelling wouldn’t have done me any good then, when my three-year-old was throwing a fit because he didn’t get his way, and it wouldn’t do any good now in dealing with (supposedly) more mature adults. The key is to stay calm, and collected.

In my early days as a car dealer, I received one too many complaints about a service manager who had a difficult time with this principle. Shouting matches were almost a sport to him. Needless to say, his tenure was very short-lived. I have never seen an exchange of tempers solve a problem, let alone sell a product.

But how do you go about reasoning with a customer who is out of control? Earlier, I discussed the importance of showing support, and empathy with challenging customers. The person who’s demonstrating open anger needs a double dose of both. As difficult as it may sound, it’s the only road to reasoning with this person. Until you administer support and empathy, they won’t be able to hear a thing you say. Let me give you an example.

A female loan officer for a local bank called my office one morning, saying that my finance manager had misrepresented some information about a customer on a credit application that she had approved. She insisted to my secretary that she see me ‘TODAY.’

My secretary scheduled an appointment for later that afternoon, which allowed me the time to conduct an internal investigation.

When the loan officer entered my office, I offered her a beverage, which she turned down. ‘I didn’t come here to socialize,’ she all but snarled.

I took a seat next to her on the same side of the desk (a showing of support) and listened as she told her story. When she wound down, I told her that I valued our relationship with her and the bank she represented. ‘I am very supportive of your position in this matter,’ I said. With that, her body language seemed to relax a bit. ‘You’ve obviously been put in a very painful situation with this,’ I empathized. She proceeded to tell me just how painful it was for her, feeling she had been taken advantage of. She also told me her decision had caused her to look bad to the loan committee.

But now it was time for her to hear my truth.

‘After your call this morning, I delved into the matter to prepare for our meeting. It seems our customer misrepresented the information contained on this credit application,’ I explained. ‘We didn’t catch it either.’

From that point forward, I felt as if I were discussing the problem with a totally different person. (She even changed her mind about the beverage.) We not only formulated a remedy for the problem but created preventative measures to ensure that the fiasco could never be repeated.

Support. Empathy. Truth. In that order. I know that had I tried to share the truth with her before offering support and empathy, it would have landed on deaf ears.

  • The difference between a sales ‘clerk’ and a sales ‘pro’ is that the pro actually looks at challenging customer situations as opportunities. The clerk see them as something to avoid at all costs.
  • Not every customer problem can be solved. But every customer can be supported. Every customer needs and deserves to he heard.
  • Being patient with difficult customers is the foundation for dealing with them. Whether a customer’s a hothead, a know-it-all, or just indecisive, there are strategies you can use. But they all take a calm presence of mind. Nothing will be accomplished if you are impatient.”

“How would you like for me to make your life a living hell?” “Well, I’m not really ready for a relationship Lois but thank you for asking.”
Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura)


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