Managing Emotional Customers

When you were hired as a bridal sales consultant, you likely knew there’d be a steep learning curve. It was probably a bit overwhelming to learn all the designers and gown styles, not to mention the details of every dress and accessory in the store. That’s a lot of information!
    On top of that, you were hired to work in one of the most exciting but challenging sales professions in the retail industry. You’re selling something that fulfills bridal-day dreams, products that are considered precious, symbolizing love and commitment. And yet because the wedding experience is so personal and important, you are also often working with emotionally charged customers – and the sale itself can be highly emotional. Navigating it all is rarely a breeze.
    When brides step into your store, they’re anything but traditional customers. The moment that ring got slipped on their finger, a whole plethora of possibilities opened up in terms of choices they would have to make and perhaps people they would have to please, including themselves, hopefully, above all.
    Some brides are nervously excited. Some are anxious and fearful. A few may be angry about certain events perhaps already not working out as planned (not your fault!) And a select few may be sad, such as in the case of those brides who’ve recently lost a parent or will be saying goodbye to a fiancé, deporting overseas just days after the wedding.
    As a leading psychologist who specializes in teaching about the power of connections and relationships to transform both personal and professional lives, Tamazin Heher, MSW (www.zinheher.com) points out that there’s a lot at stake for many brides on their wedding day. Add to that the fact that some people aren’t equipped with the tools or emotional intelligence to deal with their feelings, and this can make working with such brides an even bigger challenge for you, the sales consultant.
    “When people experience any negative emotion and don’t have or aren’t able to implement tools to manage these emotions, their emotions will over-run any logical thinking they typically have,” Heher says. “Shopping for a wedding dress combines so many of the issues that can be highly, emotionally charged that this experience can make for the perfect storm for the ‘emotionally vulnerable’ customer.”
    Examples that trigger emotions run the gamut, she says, including:

    - Attempts to translate wedding
      fantasy into reality
    - Issues related to body image
    - Finances
    - Time frame
    - Overwhelming choices
    - Managing the opinions/desires of
      others (mother of the bride,
      mother in law, bridesmaids, fiancé,
      etc.)
    - The introvert versus extrovert
      factor (e.g., Does she usually shop
      alone? Does she enjoy the
      attention?)

    Given this, however, it’s essentially impossible to separate emotions from the experience of buying a wedding gown. That’s because buying the gown requires making decisions, and the activity of decision-making is always rooted in emotions, says sales and training expert Shari Levitin, president/CEO of a national sales training organization, Levitin Group (www.sharilevitin.com), and author of the upcoming book, “Heart and Sell- Ten Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know” (Campus Press, 2017).
    “It’s a neurological fact that when faced with a decision, all the sensory information starts in the limbic system, or the ‘emotional brain,’ and then travels to the ‘rational brain,’” she says. “So as cliché as it may sound, decisions are emotional.”
    So if you think it’s possible to not have a bride who is at least somewhat emotionally charged, think again. As she’s choosing your store over another, the mermaid gown over the A-line, or her fairytale dream over her mother’s vision of how the wedding day should be, emotions are a totally normal aspect of the bridal gown shopping experience.
    The best way to manage customer emotions is to embrace them. You don’t have to like them, such as in the case of an irate bride, but they are what they are. Fighting against them, telling a bride to chill out, and even hoping that this aspect of your profession might someday melt away are totally unrealistic ways to approach your job.
    Instead, it’s better to call upon your own emotional intelligence, look customer emotions square in the eye, and implement the appropriate strategies to manage them. No doubt, there are a number of tactics for dealing with emotional customers, but, without question, you will better build connections and create the relationships you need to make the sale if you master the “Three Es.”

Be Empathetic. When customers come to you emotionally charged with anger, sadness, worry or other negative feelings, how you respond becomes a moment of truth, says John Manning, author of “The Disciplined Leader” (Berrett-Koehler, 2015) and CEO/President of MAP Consulting (www.mapconsulting.com), a business-management firm that coaches leaders and their staff in various professional arenas, including communication techniques.
    “Your ability to deal with these customers can make or break you,” Manning says. “For example, deal with an emotional customer effectively and you will gain a more loyal customer. Your success here is critical.”
    To embrace and work with these emotions, start by realizing emotional customers aren’t behaving this way on purpose. Adopting this mindset can make a huge difference when approaching the emotionally charged and navigating trying selling situations.
    “People are usually doing the best they can in the moment,” Heher says. “This lens is not only important for the customer experience but the consultant experience, too.”
    She continues, “When people are acting badly and we can trust that they are doing the best that they can in that moment, it becomes much easier to tolerate strong emotions, not get hooked in, and to move on. This helps us maintain a positive attitude and a greater level of happiness and contentment overall. This is true of any relationship.”
    Next, start asking some important questions about what’s going on and practice active listening. Open up your ears and maintain solid eye contact, earnestly seeking to understand what’s behind the emotions without pressuring your customers. Just allowing your brides to take a little time out to talk (or vent) will enable you to gain new insights about their wants and needs, and so view this information like gold. The more you know, the more likely you will be able to find a valuable solution that meets if not exceeds their expectations.
    In asking questions, Levitin says, it’s important to be somewhat strategic, earning trust with a three-level approach to questioning. Begin by asking about the facts, earning permission to go deeper, then inquire about problems or concerns they might have. Finally, have these customers describe how they want to feel on their day and why that is important to them, she says.     As you learn more about their heart, respond with yours, demonstrating appropriate, genuine understanding and compassion, perhaps by sharing your own story about how you felt similarly on your own wedding day or how other brides wished for the same kind of feeling and how you were able to help make their dreams come true.
    Above all, in regard to being empathetic, maintain a focus on connection, Heher says.
    “When a consultant is able to empathize with a bride’s experience on a deeper level, the bride will feel heard and understood, there will be an emotional connection formed, and she is more likely to purchase from that consultant and make referrals because of that emotional connection,” Heher says. “The emotional connection is KEY to the success of the sale.”

Be Enthusiastic. When faced with emotional brides, it can be hard to maintain your own enthusiasm. In part, this is because it’s exhausting. But if you approach these types of sales with genuine enthusiasm, viewing these moments as opportunities to make connections, create relationships and build loyalty on behalf of the store, being enthusiastic will feel easier, even more natural.
    Enthusiasm is an attitude – it’s a perspective that can serve as a tool to motivate you toward the goals you’ve set.
    As Manning says, “Enthusiasm is necessary for real connection. When you have it, you can connect with others and much more quickly. But you have to be careful about confusing enthusiasm with the goals of the sales process. Take it too far, and it can get you off track.”
    For example, sometimes brides can come across as a bit too enthusiastic. These are “happy” customers who call nonstop to find out about when their dress is going to arrive. Or they may e-mail you all the time just to say, “Hi” and tell you what’s happening with their wedding-planning details, asking you questions that may go beyond the scope of traditional bridal gown sales. The tendency might be to want to shut them down, but working with excited, joyful, somewhat anxious customers is just part of job, Levitin says. So it’s better to, again, embrace the emotion and learn how to work with it.
    One way is to manage it proactively. When you get that gut feeling that a particular bride is the kind who will constantly bombard you with communications, establish clear expectations from the get-go. Let her know how often and when you will be reaching out to her, assuring her that you will be taking the lead in the process. You can also go so far as to paint the picture of what she’ll feel when she hears from you each time, connecting to her heart, once again.
    “This level of enthusiasm is really about nervous energy,” Levitin says. “So to the extent that you can, try to match it, saying things like, ‘It is so exciting and next Thursday, you’re going to come in and we will have your incredible gown, and you will look so gorgeous and feel so amazing. Then on Tuesday, you’ll come back after it’s been altered, and we’ll have it all ready, and you’ll feel incredible when you take that dress home.’ The idea is to tell these customers how they’ll feel every step of the way.”
    The thing about emotional people, Levitin says, is that they have the capacity to feel a wide spectrum of emotions – and very deeply in both directions. Those who feel extreme enthusiasm can also feel extreme sadness or anger. Of course, the opposite is true. Those who feel extreme anxiety or fear can also feel great joy. And while society often stereotypes emotional people as those who are out of control, these individuals actually bring incredible value to the world and to your workplace.
    “Solve their problem or be their guide, and you’ve got a customer for life,” Levitin says. “In the age of social media, this is critical because if someone’s upset, they tweet it to 10,000 people. But if they’re grateful and overjoyed, they do so as well.”
    Keep this in mind as you approach customers who are emotional, considering how the richness of their emotions can play into and help support their experience and your brand rather than hinder it.

Be Efficient. “Managing the sales process is a bit like walking a tightrope,” Manning says. “When emotions take over the process, either because the customer is struggling to manage them or you’re getting too caught up in their emotions, it can derail this process and keep you from achieving your goals.”
    So if you’re feeling like things are spiraling out of control, return to the question (in your head), “What’s the goal?” And then attempt to get back on track by asking questions that will get to the heart of the matter, so you can problem solve and move forward. If dealing with an upset customer, you may have to give them some time or the space to calm down – and simply be OK with that. And if you find you are also struggling to stay on track emotionally?
    “Meditate, try to empathize, assume the best, don’t get hooked emotionally, and know your limits,” Heher says, noting that the point is to stay calm because you are then better able to identify ways in which you can resolve the problem and maintain control of the situation.
    However, if you’re feeling truly maxed out emotionally, “make a plan to break when you’ve reached your limits, such as having a colleague take over for you or setting up an appointment to meet another time,” she says.
    This may take courage on your part but it’s vital to recognize when a situation is going nowhere due to emotions and to have the ability to know when to call it quits – at least for the moment.
    Being efficient isn’t about overlooking people’s feelings or mitigating the importance of emotions. It’s about walking that tightrope with tact and reaching that goal, which is ultimately what the customer wants and is hiring you to do. So don’t be afraid to keep that focused mindset as you embrace yet manage the emotions by maintaining standards of professionalism that will help you reach your sales goal in a timely way. Looking back, your brides will be more likely to respect and thank you for these kinds of experiences as opposed to the ones in which emotions only were allowed to rule.

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