The perils of the passive customer

Published on: Tue 19 May 2015 by Admin

I was working recently with the staff of a small conference company. We were talking about their relationships with customers and how they could build even better ones. The CEO told me: “I want our relationships with customers to keep them coming back to us time an d time again.”

I asked the group what their worst ever experience had been as a customer. One of them said she’d been to the hairdresser, asked for a trim and been practically scalped. I was curious. Surely, I asked, you could see what was happening. Why didn’t you say something? Like: “Stop!”

She said she didn’t know. She just let it happen. Even when the hairdresser asked at the end if everything was okay, she just said: “Yes. Fine.”

It was only when she’d left the salon that she burst into tears, vowed never to go there again, and told all her friends about the shocking service she’d received.

How damaging was that for the hairdresser?

It can be a bit like that in our personal relationships too. People who are close to us not telling us what they need or want, then getting upset when we don’t give it to them. These people are passive: somehow they’ve been programmed to sacrifice (or at least not articulate) their own wants and needs.

And there are plenty of passive customers out there, like our scalping victim. These are the customers who don’t tell us what they need or want. They bottle it up. They don’t complain (to us). They expect us to read their minds.

Watch out for the passive customer. He may be quiet. She may not show her emotions. His needs may be implicit. But the passive customer will be just as upset as any other customer if we fail her. And, like the tearful baldie, passive can quickly flip to aggressive if she feels she hasn’t been listened to – like going straight onto the Twitternet and saying lots of things about us we don’t want people to hear.

I know, you say, but how can we listen to passive customers if they won’t talk to us? We need to empathise with them. As Nancy Duarte says in a recent blog: “Empathise with the people you need to persuade to purchase your product or services…. It gives you better ideas, and it makes you worth listening to.”

We may not be able to read the mind of the passive customer, but we can use intuition, build rapport and ask searching questions to get a pretty good idea of what’s going on in there. If we can show a real interest, and do our best to understand them and connect with their emotions, they’ll be more likely to listen and open up to us.

And then we can meet their needs and wants – even though (they think) they haven’t told us what they are.

And that should keep them coming back.