By Chuck Inman
Kristy had finally worked her way to the front of the store after standing in line for 45 minutes with about 30 other people with their holiday packages at one of the mail (shipping) stores in a mall. The two women working behind the counter were frantically trying to take care of customers, as the line grew increasingly longer with each passing minute. Close enough to the counter now, Kristy was able to overhear one of the women behind the counter utter to herself “Oh no, the computer screen blacked out.” One of the two computers had crashed, as the two behind the counter exchanged one of those “Oh no!” glances at each other.
Instead of addressing those waiting in line, both employees just kept their heads down and kept working. People in line got anxious and tempers got short, as they noticed that the line was getting serviced by only one of the employees. Kristy again overheard one clerk tell a customer, “This computer crashes all the time.” Obviously they weren’t prepared for an event that appeared to happen frequently. Both ladies seemed to have lost a major portion of their thinking capacity. They were knocked out of the moment and lost an opportunity to connect with customers.
What could have happened if they had stayed in the moment? They could have addressed the customers and told them they had a computer problem and they were rebooting. It was going to take a couple of minutes. They could have used the opportunity to get the customers to play: Who would like to share their plans for the holidays? We’ll give a small gift to the person traveling farthest for the holidays. They could have even done a quick raffle of one of their office items to keep the customers engaged.
Do you remember those hot summer days as a kid when you would go to a convenience store and get a Slurpee to cool down and after a few slurps or gulps you would get this incredible searing pain in the middle of your forehead? Remember how this physical brain freeze would render you useless for about 20 seconds until the pain went away?
There is another type of brain freeze, which is a chemical reaction our brain performs when we are under anxiety or stress. It is called a chemical brain freeze (CBF). This is a very primitive but effective way the brain copes with the stresses and difficulties in today’s chaotic world. Our brain is trying to keep us alive and it takes on the role of our triage center. Fight, flight or freeze, our brain will shut down the more complex thinking brain in order to get out of the situation and allow us to cope better. However we don’t always perform at our best when the brain shuts down the thinking mind.
Remember that time you got so mad you couldn’t think straight? Or got called on in a meeting and you were unprepared for the answer? These situations don’t have to be life threatening for that to happen. They can be as simple as having your computer shut down in front of customers.
When we are prepared and “stay in the moment,” we utilize all of our mental resources available and get creative. When you’re not prepared you can impact your customers in a negative way. Your reaction to a stressful situation can cause your customers to react in a quick decisive way that has them leaving your business and not coming back.
Here are 4 key areas to help you connect with customers during stressful situations:
1) Stop what you are doing for a moment and step back to analyze the situation. Recognize the fact that your customers are going to be observing you whether you acknowledge them or not. So step back and try and gain an overall perspective of what is happening at the moment.
2) Take a deep breath. Literally, by taking a deep breath you stop the chemical brain freeze that is beginning to happen. Shallow breathing causes your heart to race and your brain to dump survival chemicals into your system. Deep breathing eliminates that process.
3) Engage the thinking brain again by asking yourself some key questions. What impact is this going to have on my customers? If I were a customer how would I feel? How would I want to be treated? What would be a simple solution from the customer’s perspective? By asking these questions the thinking brain becomes engaged again and you can start using your creative resources to their capacity. You can start by asking them questions. Sometimes it is a short-term solution, while other times it takes some longer-term decisions to meet their needs. Make sure your actions are directed toward helping them with their problem.
4) Be prepared for problems, especially if a particular busy time or complex situation is anticipated. Run through some scenarios if things don’t go right or as planned. In a cockpit when the Caution/Warning Signal flashes, the pilots have been trained to handle problems associated with signals. What options are available? How can you turn a less desirable situation into an opportunity to show the customer you care about their business and loyalty? The more prepared you are the better you will be at handling difficult situations.
Controlling Chemical Brain Freezes is not easy. They typically happen when things don’t go according to plan. If you don’t take control of the situation you can wind up with unsatisfactory results. In Kristy’s case, she watched as the people in line slowly started talking amongst themselves and probably starting having their own chemical brain freezes. One by one people started leaving the line and walking out the door. The long line of customers dwindled down to single digits. How much lost business happened that day? How many unhappy customers would tell others about the poor service and how many customers would never come back?
Know that chemical brain freezes can happen to all of us and be prepared for something not to go right. The more we can anticipate something going wrong the better prepared we are to help our customers during these difficult times.
Chuck Inman is a leadership and emotional intelligence specialist. He is a keynote speaker, trainer, coach and founder of Crystal Clear Motivation, LLC. His leading edge keynote on “Leadership C.L.O.U.T. – Improving Communication Skills & Strengthening Teams,” is a dynamic program that’s addresses leader’s key challenges in today’s world. He has traveled across multiple continents and presented his programs to people from over 40 different countries. To find out more information about Chuck and his programs please visit www.chuckInman.com.