How to Handle Anxious Customers

By Gerhard Gschwandtner

According to modern psychology, feelings of anxiety are produced by our thoughts. Anxious thoughts can appear at any moment of our lives and float freely into our stream of consciousness.

Feelings of anxiety reduce our customer’s ability to think clearly, and they make communication more difficult. Here is how to recognize the common signals that communicate feelings of anxiety.

1. Anxious Speech Patterns

Look for:

  • Speaking with a soft voice
  • Hesitant and cautious speech patterns
  • Qualifying words such as “maybe,” “perhaps,” “sometimes,” or “I guess”
  • Expressions that are vague or incomplete
  • Disjointed ideas or notions
  • Starting a sentence and trailing
  • Long pauses

2. Nonverbal Expressions of Anxiety

Look for:

  • Swallowing before speaking
  • Trembling hands or fingers
  • Self-touching gestures such as wringing hands or touching palms to forehead or cheeks
  • Fidgeting with small objects
  • Foot jiggling

3. Mental Detours Provoked by Anxiety:

Look for:

  • Inability to focus thoughts
  • Jumping from one subject to the next quickly
  • Ending calls abruptly without explanation
  • An unusual interest in a red-herring issue or avoidance of a discussion about a critical subject

4. Anxiety-induced Behavior:

Look for:

  • Withdrawal and retreat
  • Overly defensive posture
  • Reluctance to discuss feelings
  • Little white lies or embellished stories
  • Frequent colds or physical complaints
  • Passing the buck and letting someone else make the buying decision

If you notice any of these signs, there are things you can do to ease a customer’s discomfort produced by anxiety.

The key word is to employ empathy instead of sympathy. Empathy means you understand and accept your customer’s feelings of discomfort; however, you mentally separate yourself from your customer and refuse to feel as he does. Sympathy means you allow yourself to think and feel as your customer – to the point that you experience the same feelings of anxiety, worry, or fear.

Your best strategy is twofold: first, calm down your customer to the point where he or she is capable of communicating clear thoughts; second, lead the discussion back to the sale. Here are some specific things you can do.

1. Speak in calming, reassuring tones. Lower your voice; slow down your rate of speech; speak softly and deliberately. Your voice should communicate quiet confidence.

2. Consciously relax your body. Your customer needs to be with someone who is able to radiate soothing, calming, and reassuring signals. Allow your customer more personal space. If your customer is sitting or standing within the reach of your arms, you need to back up slowly. Avoid frowning; don’t imitate your customer’s jittery body language. Positively accent your words with frequent smiles and slow head nods. Slow down or eliminate your hand gestures. Keep your hands relaxed and your palms open. Avoid self-touching gestures and slow down the frequency of your eye blinking. Close your lids slightly as if you felt a little tired.

3. If necessary, change the environment. Lead your customer into a quiet area or a private conference room. Direct your customer to a chair facing a quieter scene. Let him or her look at a beautiful picture or the view out of your window. Don’t have his chair face a wall clock, a busy office scene, or a busy hallway. If necessary, reschedule your meeting or plan your next meeting in a quiet restaurant or a coffee shop to further relax your customer.