Last week I outlined some tactics to prevent customers from derailing a workshop with out-of-scope ideas and feedback. But what if your workshop includes a tricky customer who continues to push the conversation in an unproductive direction?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
To ensure you’re recruiting customers who will be opinionated but constructive, we strongly recommend a phone or Skype conversation to vet potential workshop participants. Don’t disqualify customers who have had a bad experience with your organization—just the ones who can’t talk about their woes productively. (You should also nix customers with an extremely rosy view and who are unlikely to have ideas for improvement). A diligent recruiting process will flag 90% of these folks—thank them for their time; don’t invite them to your workshop.
What if a negative nelly with an axe to grind slips through your screening?
Even with proper recruiting, you may still have the occasional participant who struggles to move past a negative experience. Or your discussion may get sidetracked by an extended description of an issue you already know about. Or you may simply have a customer who is passionate about something that just isn’t important to your project.
When I feel a conversation is on the brink of a rabbit hole, here’s my three-step process for facilitating us away from the edge:
Acknowledge the issue.
A participant in the throes of reliving a bad experience won’t move on until he knows he’s been heard. Acknowledge and validate his emotional response with empathy—a simple “wow, that sounds incredibly frustrating” can go a long way. If he’s harping on a known problem for which a solution is already in the works, try something along the lines of, “You’re not alone in voicing that issue; we’ve recently learned that lots of people found our billing statement confusing so we’re in the process of redesigning it.”
Capture the feedback.
Show that you’re making a note of the issue and, if helpful, share next steps to close the loop. You may also want to provide a place for participants to note down their contact info so that someone can follow up post-workshop to resolve their issue. “Let me make sure I’ve got the details of that problem down; these notes will be very helpful for the team working on the statement redesign.” Or “what a great idea! I’ll be sure to pass that along.”
Pivot to the questions you care about.
When you’re blatantly changing the topic, a great way to make a customer feel important and respected is to reference something he said earlier in the conversation. “Thanks again for your feedback on the billing statement. Now I want to go back to the story you were telling about the technician who set up your service—tell me more about that interaction.”