„Customer is king” and „the customer is always right” have been repeated like mantras for so many years that everybody has all lost track of when they were first spoken. Designed to win customers at any cost, they have proven to be a curse and a nightmare for many entrepreneurs. After all, how to act effectively and in accordance with your own qualifications, when there are so many professionals around, and we want to please everyone. As a result, the number of satisfied people is close to…zero. This vicious circle is found in every industry, including the language industry.
An example? You don’t have to look too far, so let’s think about scheduling classes. The natural course is to gather groups for specific days and hours, and in the next step, spread them out into free rooms and available teachers. However, there are also schools that are planning classes for students who have been used to this for many semesters.
The result? „When she’s going to have dinner,” „he’s not going to even get a rest after school,” „Jack’s got a robotics course then, and he’s been coming to you for three years now…”. A simple recipe for chaos, student dissatisfaction, and faster burnout. So how do we avoid this kind of situation? The only right recipe is ASSERTIVENESS.
However, there are two basic things to keep in mind in this case:
1.Assertiveness is often confused with aggression and brusqueness, especially if you have been passive. Therefore, your attitude, tone, and method of communication are very important.
2. Assertiveness, contrary to established beliefs, is not the art of saying no. Rather, it is the art of negotiating and reaching a compromise.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a psychologist, said:
„To be passive is to let others decide for you”. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.”
The assertiveness in dealing with the customer is to present your own point of view, without judging or criticizing others. How do you do this so that the customer accurately reads your intentions?
Assertiveness is the ability to express thoughts and feelings in a HARD way:
Respect is crucial because it makes the customer feel important. Clear and sincere communication helps minimize conflict and reduce negative emotions.
There are five types of communication. Recognizing the style in which you and your customer communications will help you understand where the source of the conflict lies.
Aggressive people express their opinions loud and direct and emphasize the mood that accompanies them. It is difficult, but not impossible, to reach a compromise here. People who communicate in this way rarely listen to the opinions of others.
Passive people generally avoid conflict. As a result, they very rarely communicate their needs and apologize even if they are not guilty. Communicating with such people is difficult because in difficult conversations they do not take sides or submit to the opinion of the dominant party. As the people around do not know their needs, they often become frustrated about not satisfying them. This can lead to trauma suppression.
This style of communication is dominated by sarcasm, thanks to which such people avoid direct communication. This allows them to withdraw and avoid the problem instead of solving it.
It’s hard to recognize when such people are honest, because they use words primarily to influence others, most often negatively. In conflict situations, they usually resort to criticism and attempt to take control of the conversation.
Kind, honest and direct. They can both listen to the speaker and express themselves. They attach a lot of attention to the understanding of people with different points of view.
Of course, an assertive style is the most desirable in relations with customers. Rather than promoting the attitude of „customer is king”, it is worth betting on the solution:
In order to make your first assertive communication exercises a little easier, I will describe below 5 ready strategies for dealing with a demanding customer:
This strategy is useful if you are talking to an aggressive or manipulative type who uses verbal aggression. Instead of being drawn into an argument, use a smoke screen in the form of a terse, calm response. That’s how you calm down the interlocutor without being defensive.
The technique is to agree with the other person’s statement even if they are critical of you. Quiet, affirmative answers can work in two ways: the person will stop because he/she will not achieve the desired effect or will perceive the absurdity of his/her arguments. In both cases, the interlocutor calms down, giving room for constructive discussion.
2. Broken record
This technique is based on the key skill of assertive people, which is calm perseverance. It consists of the persistent repetition of your opinion/decision/request over and over again. Do it without raising your voice, anger, annoyance, or intrusion. Stick to your decision and don’t let it go. This avoids the pressure of the environment because consistency in insisting on your opinion can quickly exhaust the arguments of the other person. It works when the other side tries to get you to do something you don’t want to do or put pressure on.
3. Communication highlighting the ‘I’
It is about emphasizing your feelings and needs. It is worth using phrases such as I need, I will, and I want. This is to not appeal to other people/situations and not to blame the interlocutor. It is important to replace the conditional mode of your statements with an anticipative one and replace the evasive and vague ‚I can’t’ with the specific I need. With this kind of communication, the other side will feel that it is not blamed them, and you will also emphasize your firmness in decision making.
4. Jujitsu technique
Another technique that is extremely useful for exercising assertiveness. It consists primarily in controlling emotions, keeping calm, and waiting until the other person lets go. This is a technique for the patient because many people lose patience, which intensifies the conflict. Jujitsu is about using the arguments of the interlocutor in a conversation.
When should I use it?
It works at the moment when the interlocutor wants to instill remorse in you expecting a „favor for a favor”. If the other person invokes what they have done for you, expecting you to return the favor, you have the right to refuse, but emphasize your gratitude for what they have done for you.
5. SBI Technique
Knowing how people will react to a change in class schedule or an increase in the number of students in a group, prepare to talk to the students and their parents. The reactions of people you know are replicated, so having a scenario in your head will make it easier for you to keep calm and have a constructive discussion. In this case, the SBI, or situation-behavior-impact, works well.
The pattern of expression:
- You define the facts, not your opinions or those of the interlocutor.
- You are responding to the facts, i.e you are expressing your opinion on the matter.
- You define your expectations, thus setting limits.
In which situations should a particular technique be used?
It’s up to you to judge the situation. Remember that if the conflict situation is due to the fact that you are to blame, the use of ‘fogging’ or ‘broken record’ can only escalate the conflict. An assertive approach to the situation should make awkward situations easier to resolve and reach a compromise.
Assertiveness depends on the communication channel
Conflict situations arise not only when an angry customer goes to the school’s secretariat and even given the increasing trend towards remote communication, but they also become rare. But each channel requires a slightly different strategy, so let’s look at what should characterize them.
Assertiveness over the phone
Do not receive negative comments in person – the reaction of an angry customer has more to do with his/her emotional state than with your person. Without seeing the other person, it is easier to speak harsh words that can escalate tension. Remain solution-oriented and calm.
Listen actively – show the customer that you are listening to him/her, for example by paraphrasing his/her words. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify your expectations.
Assertiveness over e-mail
Confirm the problem – in your speech emphasize that you are addressing the problem and apologize if necessary. You know, everybody’s communicating in a different way. If you’re dealing with a passive person who doesn’t make his/her needs clear, you might have to read between the lines. Before you answer, try to put yourself in the position of the customer.
Assertiveness in Social Media
Do not be provoked – remember that in the face of negative opinions, you as a company are ALWAYS in a losing position, even if you are right. Respond with empathy and propose solutions.
The rule of two answers – do not reply more than twice as part of the exchange of answers. Although you want to solve the customer’s problem, this does not mean that you should endure unrealistic requests or naughty answers.
Take your conversation offline – resolving conflicts at a forum is never a good solution.
Assertiveness during a live meeting
The tone of voice – do not speak too quietly, because you will sound timid, but not too loud so that you do not sound sharp. Keep your voice level, constant, it will emphasize calmness and self-confidence.
Listen to complaints without interruption – when interacting with passive customers, be sure to ask more questions to get to the root of their problem.
Stay patient and calm – always try to keep your feelings in check, especially when talking to more expressive customers.
I hope that this solution will help you improve the quality of communication with your customers, even the most demanding ones. Let us know in the comments which situations in language school are most demanding for you.