Why You Should Treat Your Patrons Like Criminals (OK, not really, but hear me out…)

Today’s guest blog post is written by Erin Madden Ramirez, Data Project Coordinator, Patron Technology.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon an article called 6 hostage negotiation techniques that will get you what you want. It made me think of the movie The Negotiator (Samuel L. Jackson! Kevin Spacey!), so I decided to read the story for fun.

While reading, I was surprised to realize how much the techniques discussed in the article could apply to anyone for whom customer service is a regular part of their job.

Indeed, the writer points out that one key to negotiating is to get someone to see your point of view, and that these techniques are “not something that only [work] with barricaded criminals wielding assault rifles — [they apply] to most any form of disagreement.”

The 5 steps outlined in the article are as follows:

  1. Active Listening: Listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening.
  2. Empathy: You get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel. (Side note, I prefer the word compassion over the word empathy. You don’t want to feel someone’s pain literally.)
  3. Rapport: Empathy (or compassion) is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They start to trust you.
  4. Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommend a course of action.
  5. Behavioral Change: They act. (And maybe come out with their hands up.)

Does this progression sound familiar? It should. Any time you fielded a customer complaint, made a telemarketing call, or tried to upsell a patron, you used some, if not all, of these techniques. It’s the “some” that can present a problem. The author goes on to say,

In all likelihood you usually skip the first three steps. You start at step four (Influence) and expect the other person to immediately go to step five (Behavioral Change). And that never works.

Saying “Here’s why I’m right and you’re wrong” might be effective if people were fundamentally rational. But they’re not.

In fact, “rational” rarely comes into play when human beings are involved! If you want a better resolution when dealing with indecisive, disappointed, or disgruntled patrons, start thinking of your interactions with them as hostage negotiations (albeit with less chance of bodily harm).

You just might be able to “free” their wallet to upgrade their subscription or get them to agree to donate their tickets rather than receiving a refund. Best of all, they will walk away from their encounter knowing you heard them and helped them.

Now please excuse me while I go microwave some popcorn. I have a sudden urge to dig through my old DVDs so I can watch Sam and Kevin banter.

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