BY RHETT POWER I’m sure you are familiar with the old adage, “The customer is always right?” This sounds great, but it’s not necessarily true. Your customers can certainly be wrong. What is true is that “the customer is always the customer.” Even though he can be blatantly wrong, his status as customer (and source of your livelihood) dictates that you communicate effectively with him. How can you overcome the anger, fear, or personality differences that lead to friction? This is something that everyone can LEARN. Another adage fits this scenario: “Perception is all.” One of the most common reasons for a customer to go to a competitor is his perception of your interactions and how he feels about them. Try these communication skills to smooth your difficult conversations. Listen True listening seems to be a disappearing art in our culture. But in order to communicate effectively with a difficult customer, it’s imperative. An ear is only the organ that delivers sound waves to the brain. A good listener also engages his heart and mind. He does not allow himself to become distracted, but focuses on the speaker. He doesn’t formulate answers before the speaker completes a statement. He doesn’t give the appearance of being defensive. Empathize You can offer sympathy to someone who is having a problem, but empathy will go much further toward achieving your goals. Put yourself in the customer’s place. Wouldn’t you be disgruntled, angry, and perhaps even fearful if a product or service didn’t live up to your expectations? If it didn’t perform according to the advertising or worse, caused some type of damage or injury? Accept Accept what the customer says at face value, even if you think he is wrong. He thinks he is right, and perception is the most important thing. If he Rhett Power is an Inc. com Columnist, Tenacious Entrepreneur, Author, and Speaker. This article first appeared in Inc.com perceives that you accept and believe him, he will be more likely to relax and get to the point. A common hallmark of strained interactions is that the main bone of contention is saved for last. The complainant will build up to his real issue by talking about the peripheral ones first. And that also allows him to build a mountain of anger out of his molehill of frustration. Respect If the customer receives respect from you, he will likely return it. If he feels disrespected, it will be perceived as a personal attack. Remember, you can learn something from anybody, regardless of education level, financial situation, or physical appearance. Everyone deserves respect simply for being human. Negotiate If you successfully employ listening, empathizing, accepting, and respecting, you will pave the way for negotiating. You will have put the difficult person at ease. You will have helped him believe you are in his corner. He will be better prepared to drop his aggression and enter into negotiations, believing that you will treat him with fairness, honesty, and integrity. Finally, always try to resolve a customer’s issue with one conversation. The quicker the issue is resolved the better the customer will feel about the interaction.