“Remain calm!  All is well!”

Such words are uttered by Kevin Bacon during the climax of the movie Animal House (1978), as his character – the antagonistic Chip Diller – helplessly attempts to address a fleeing mob of shrieking parade-goers.  The context of the scene notwithstanding, this is often how it can feel when having to deal with panicking clients; as if your words are but one addition to an entire mountain of noise, quickly drowned out and just as quickly forgotten.

Though this may seem to be the case, the true issue is that such situations are difficult to foresee, and thus many people lack competent strategies to handle such a situation.  In reality, calming panicked clients – as with any other skill – is quite learnable. Here are a few helpful strategies to employ next time you find yourself in such a situation.

  • When applicable, opt for ‘personal’ over ‘convenient’.

It is commonly accepted in business that there is some news for which a memo or email is appropriate, and some for which they are not.  The same goes for interacting with panicked clients; in broad terms, email or text communication should only be utilized to set up a time for a phone call or face-to-face conversation, and should never constitute the conversation itself.

Though less convenient, the justifications for this abound.  In addition to simply sending the right message about the amount of one’s time which one’s clients deserve (especially when anxious), a more personal dialogue possesses multiple benefits in terms of actually pacifying the client’s worries.  A calm tone-of-voice and appearance can do wonders in this regard, as they send a message which cannot be as effectively communicated with text alone: whatever it is that is worrying your client, it certainly isn’t worrying you.

  • At first, lend your ears, not your opinion.

Oftentimes, when a client is troubled to the point of panicking, the experienced businessperson typically has some idea of what their grievances are before the first words are even spoken.  This is a natural byproduct of a strong client relationship, and speaks very well to the values of the business and businessperson in question.  In all likelihood, however, said client is in a completely different state of mind; one which requires new rules of engagement.

Panicked clients are so because they are afraid, and they are afraid because they are uncertain.  The client’s heart is pounding, their mind is racing, and they want, more than anything, to express how they are feeling.  As such, it is best to let them do just that; ask them to explain the issue as they see it.  Listen intently, without interrupting or interjecting, all while silently keeping track of specific concerns as they come up.  After the client has finished, simply go through the list addressing each point and providing your explanation.

  • Remain calm, empathic, and amiable.

In all people, regardless of profession, the natural response to negative stimuli is to enter a state of defensiveness.  It is certainly understandable, then, that a businessperson might do the same when forced to deal with an anxious client.  Understandable, yes; but not acceptable.

Unfair as it may seem, one must never be defensive towards a client, no matter how agitating they are, who they blame, etc.  Lowering oneself to an argument, even if one were to come out the ‘victor’, will invariably cripple the relationship from that point on.  People place a great deal of weight on how one another act during a crisis, and behaving in a less-than-reserved manner will leave an indelible negative impression with the client.

So, what strategies can be used to avoid this?  Speak calmly, and avoid using words which can cause alarm, such as ‘uncertainty’.  Place yourself in the client’s position and think of what types of words or phrases you would not want to hear.  In addition to that, speaking on a personal level with the client can go a long way in terms of calming their nerves, as well as reminding them of your strong, productive relationship.

Contributed by John Walsh, Marketing Intern