Do you make this unforgivable mistake with your customers?

My son Calvin, with a Ukelele. I love buying instruments for my son, so I was offended when a sales person wouldn't let us take a closer look at an instrument I wanted to buy.

My son Calvin, with a Ukelele. I love buying instruments for my son, so I was offended when a sales person wouldn’t let us take a closer look at an instrument I wanted to buy.

Last weekend I walked into a consignment shop with my son, and noticed a display of musical instruments.

I am the type of person who routinely splurges on musical instruments: My husband and I met at a music conservatory, we spend at least at thousand dollars a year on music lessons for our kids, my husband bought two saxophones in the past two years, I almost bought a piano at a moving sale and I want to buy a piccolo trumpet.

So when Calvin and I passed the instruments we released an in-unison mother/boy “ooohh.”

There were guitars, flutes, clarinets, and accordions. But what caught our attention was a dusty old melody harp. A melody harp is a harp that has buttons that let you play specific chords.

Even though the price ($150) was high, I considered buying it because Calvin is in the throes of a music class where they play a lot of songs on a melody harp. I lifted him up so he could strum the instrument. Just as I was deciding where in my house I would put this instrument, a saleswoman noticed what we were doing and said, “He’s not supposed to be up there.”

I said, “Would it be OK if we put it on this chair so we can look at it?”

She said, “Actually, he can’t touch anything.”

I thought, if she doesn’t want us to touch it, she must not want us to buy it.

Which was a shame, because I was so close to buying it. I wanted it and I had the money the money for it. All I needed her to do was ask for the sale.

But instead, she treated us like people who would drop the melody harp and never be able to pay for the damage.

I felt insulted and couldn’t let it go all weekend. Now, I’ll think of that place as the store that gave me a hard time because I have kids, and will never go back.

No customer would.

Which brings me to the most unforgivable mistake that you can commit with your customers….

Do you ever insult your customers?

The whole buying and selling dynamic is full of situations where the customer can feel insulted. If customers feel talked down to, or lectured, they will close off, and the sale will be over. This happens in all kinds of sales scenarios, from a simple second-hand store buy, to a complex business sale worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jeff Thul, author of Exceptional Selling; How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales, studied the world’s most effective sales people to find out what behaviors lead to great results. He also studied struggling sales people to identify things that salespeople do to undermine and sabotage their sales efforts.

In his book, he offers several suggestions that can help you avoid insulting your customers.

You may be wondering why customers can be so touchy. After all, they’re all logical people, right?

They are logical, for the most part.

The problem is that their “Old Brain,” the limbic system that controls attacks, submissions, flights, reproduction and nurturing, reacts much faster than the analytical cerebral cortex. Thul wrote, “Think about how quickly a customer’s gesture or tone of voice or tone of voice can trigger a negative a negative perception, or worse, a negative reaction in you… There is a good chance that you are seeing the ‘Old Brain’ and the adaptive unconscious at work in these situations. When people react negatively and things start heading downhill, conversations can quickly get out of control and they become even harder to turn around.

Here are two techniques to prevent insults:

Ask assumptive questions. Thul said, “Assumptive Questions are worded in such a way that the customers awareness and expertise remain unquestioned.”

Here’s an example of the wrong thing to say to a customer: “You’ve probably never thought of this, but…” If you say something like that you can expect them to be on the defense because it sounds like a criticism – an accusation that they don’t think of things. It’s better to ask your questions as if they have already thought things through. Even if the customer is not fully aware of an issue or if they don’t completely know what they’re talking about, they will be flattered when you pose your questions in this manner.

Avoid confrontational language. There are situations when you may need to clarify a point with a customer. If you say, “Could you be more specific?” you are indirectly accusing the customer of not speaking clearly. (Thul calls this a dangling insult.) You can avoid insulting the customer by asking questions like, “Could you tell me more about…?” or “Could you give me an example of….?” or “When did you first notice…?”

There is an important reason to rethink the way we talk to our customers. We have to protect their self-esteem. Thul wrote, “When salespeople inadvertently damage their customer’s self-esteem, they risk losing the cooperation and participation that is so important to the sales process.”

Go through your company’s sales materials to see if there are any dangling insults and find a way to re-write them in a way that assumes that your customer knows and understands more.