Thursday, November 3, 2011

Forgiveness and Empathy in Selling

The Dreaded Problem Customer

In my previous sales job, I remember dealing with problem customers. These were the customers that were never satisfied no matter what I did. Whenever I followed up with them (unless they got to me first), there was always a complaint. I began, regrettably, to harbor resentment toward these customers.

Molly Cantrell-Kraig, founder of Women With Drive, had an interesting post the other day about the power of apologizing. She expressed the guilt she felt for being angry when someone actually apologized to her. Why did she feel bad about being upset with the person who had wronged her? My guess is that it made her realize that she could have just as easily been the one apologizing. This scenario caused me to think about my problem customers.

Customers with Problems

I can count on one hand the times I've been apologized to by my "problem customers," but that isn't the point. The point is that I am not perfect. And, while I often acquire an attitude of indignity when customers are rude or demanding, I should be acquiring an attitude of humility instead. How many times in my life have I been the problem salesman, the problem husband, the problem student, the problem employee, etc. and yet been completely oblivious to it? I complain. I'm rude an demanding at times, I'm sure. Why should I be so troubled when people treat me in the same way?

A better way to see a "problem customer," I think, is to see her as a customer with problems. There is a reason for her behavior. Something causes her to behave the way she does. We are so quick to rationalize and give excuses for our bad behavior but assume the worst of intentions in others. Especially as salespeople, we should know better. We are there to serve our customers, not to be pampered and placed on a pedestal by them. What does that say about our intentions when we become so bitter? Why not be a little more sympathetic? How about showing that we care, regardless of how we are treated in return?

The words of Jesus on the cross come to mind: "forgive them, for they know not what they do." I think it's time we be a little more empathetic in selling. Rarely are customers malicious for no good reason. Let's try to understand them and help them in their darkest hours. Apology or not, forgiveness is in order.

Who have you forgiven lately?


  1. Great point Doug! I've learned that customers don't react angrily or get impatient for no reason. There's always something going on inside of them that maybe has nothing to do with us, but is affecting the way they interact with us. I've found that an attitude of kindness goes a long way in helping them open up about what may really be bothering them.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Cara! It can be hard sometimes to swallow our pride and give a rude person the benefit of the doubt. But you're right. Kindness softens hearts and lowers barriers. You can't put out a fire with more fire. Thanks for stopping by!