“How should my wife deal with bullies,” this seminar attendee asked me. She works for a large software company, he said, and helps implement their systems at customers’ offices. And their customers regularly try to bully her into providing a lot more services and products than they paid for.
She wants to exceed their customers’ expectations – but she doesn’t like their customers’ overbearing “we’re always right and deserve more” attitude. What should she do – or what should you do in similar circumstances?
First, find out what’s motivating the bullying behavior. Is it driven by a simple need to just get more or is there an underlying unsatisfied interest? Perhaps these customers feel they paid too much for the software (a vestige of the earlier sales negotiation) and there’s some tit-for-tat going on?
Or maybe her company has a reputation for giving in to bullies, which simply incentivizes more bullying behavior? Or perhaps her customers just want attention and the perception of power?
Second, match the response to their motivation. If her customers resent her company’s earlier sales behavior, address it with the sales staff so it doesn’t happen again. If her company has a reputation for always giving in to bullies, start the process to change the reputation. Initiate an internal conversation to develop criteria driving when and under what circumstances her company provides free services in their negotiations in the software implementation phase.
Or perhaps set up a policy whereby she and her colleagues don’t have the authority to provide free services. Or maybe provide a set number of free consulting hours, but insist that subsequent services must be provided at the standard rate.
Of course, if the motivation appears to be just some plain old attention-seeking bullying and a blatant grab for more, negotiate the circumstances in which the conversation takes place. Consider firmly, professionally and directly addressing the unacceptable behavior and indicate that neither you nor your company responds to those acting in that fashion.
At some point, if it persists, you might even escalate the issue to that person’s manager.
Third, apprise your manager of your customers’ bullying behavior and get her on your same page so she doesn’t get blindsided if you resist it and your customer escalates. Make sure your manager has your back.
Finally, understand that your leverage here may be strong. Even though they’re the customer and may threaten to take their future business elsewhere, it may be difficult and expensive for them to do so short-term (and even long-term), especially if you’re on site with a signed agreement.
This gives you the leverage – if you choose to exercise it – to just say no.
Bottom line, as most parents know and most kids learn quickly, just giving in to bullies will only lead to more bullying and poisoned relationships. On the other hand, just reacting and fighting back – especially if it’s a significant customer – can be costly in terms of the relationship and future business.
Instead, strategically craft your response. You will be better off – and so may others
who deal with your customers in the future.
Published November 4, 2010 The Arizona Republic