Difficult Customer Reactions


Written by:

Bio not available.

How to demonstrate respect for your customer, even when you don’t get the reaction you want.

I have written at length regarding the ability to acknowledge your customer’s reactions in a way that demonstrates that you heard what they said, you are taking them seriously and you respect their right to their own point of view.

Sounds easy enough in theory, but not in application. Recently, I received this difficult customer reaction from a livestock rep out west.

The most difficult response I have continued to face is DVMs that don’t want to consider competitive vaccines, and only want to use what they always have. They claim that if something happens and production suffers, the vaccine will get the blame, and they are happy with their current results.

My first question to the rep was “where do you think that DVM is on the Decision Ladder?” The response was AVOID.

Certainly, there is some risk for the DVM in switching vaccines. However, in most cases when I have encountered this response in person, the vet was at STOP. She/he wanted me to stop selling the idea of changing what they are currently doing.

Why is this distinction important?

If you respond to AVOID, you might acknowledge them by saying, “Sounds like there are some risks to changing vaccines, so let’s look at some ways of reducing the risk.” That would be a great acknowledgment and a sound action strategy going forward, but there is the problem. You’re trying to move the sale forward and the vet wants you to stop selling.

On the other hand, if you respond to STOP, you might acknowledge them by saying, “Got it. Sounds like the risks outweigh the rewards, so let’s stop here. Let me ask you a question. Under what conditions or requirements have you switched products in the past?” You’re no longer trying to get them interested in switching vaccines. You’re now interested in finding out more about them. The focus has switched from you to them, and there is a good chance the conversation will continue.


At this point, more probing is necessary, as you are about to discover what they value. Not only will you uncover what you would have to deliver in terms of value for them to switch vaccines, but it will be valuable information on which to base future calls as you attempt to gather a larger share of the business.

If at the end of the probing interaction you determine that the new vaccine does deliver the added benefit that the vet values, you should continue the conversation.

If it doesn’t, accept the well-informed NO and move on to the next item or the next call. You may not have made the sale today, but you have gained valuable information to use on future calls.

More importantly, you demonstrated great respect for the decision-maker, and in the process enhanced their respect for you. And that respect will assist you in moving out of the just another vendor category into the role of trusted advisor and business associate.

The decision ladder

This tool will help you assess your customer’s attitude by connecting to the action you can hear in their voice and see in their body language, combined with the words they use. So, from the lowest to the highest level of involvement, here are the actions correlated with the attitudes.

Action / Attitude

Neglect / Indifference

Complain  / Troubled

Avoid  / Fearful

Stop / Opposed

Challenge / Competitive

Look/Listen / Neutral

Study / Reserved

Continue Interested

Play / Enthused

Commit / Confident

The Decision Ladder also provides a strategy to inspire others to join you at commit.

  1. Acknowledge and align with any negative
  2. Move yourself to neutral
  3. If the customer follows, gradually build your case through the positives and
  4. Close on the biggest decision the customer can handle today.

About the author: Patrick T. Malone is a Business Advisor and Leadership Mentor based in Blairsville, Ga. He is the co-author of the best-selling business book Cracking the Code to Leadership and may be reached at [email protected] or 706-835-1308.

Photo Credit:  istockphoto.com/Ranta Images