Ground Water Canada

Features Business Operations
Customer service: grudge purchases

Four strategies for dealing with reluctant customers

May 9, 2018  By Jeff Mowatt

If you sell products and services that people buy because they have to, then read on. After over 25 years of advising companies that deal primarily with reluctant customers, I’ve developed these four strategies for helping customers feel better about spending money on grudge purchases.

If you sense your customers are rushed or frustrated, don’t ask them how they are. That question just reminds them that they’re not having a good experience. Instead, ask, “What can I do to make your day go a little better?” It helps keep the conversation positive while indicating you’re aware that they have other things they’d rather be doing.

Speaking of better word choices, avoid asking reluctant customers what they want or what they’d like. Frankly, they don’t want to be there at all. Instead, phrase your questions along these lines: “Would it be useful…?” “Would it make sense…?” “Would it be helpful…?”


A couple enjoying an appetizer at a fancy restaurant may not mind waiting if the main course is slightly delayed. On the other hand, a parent kept waiting past appointment time with a fidgety child in a crowed dental office needs an explanation. The dentist should acknowledge being late. Start with, “Thanks for your patience today. A previous patient had a serious condition I needed to spend more time with. Rest assured we’ll take all the time we need to take care of you. Before I do, how’s your time – are we OK?” When customers agree to proceed, they feel less taken for granted, more like they’ve regained control, and more receptive to your service.

Let begrudging customers know that you understand what they really want. An employee at a license plate registry office would do well to tell a customer who’s obviously running errands during lunchtime, “Let’s take care of this quickly so you can hopefully get a chance to eat.” A plumber replacing a hot water tank mentions, “At least now when you leave the house you’ll know that you won’t come home to a flood.” Customers may be focused on the immediate painful purchase. You need to remind them of the more positive strategic outcome.

By definition, people don’t enjoy spending money on grudge purchases. So with big-ticket purchases it’s helpful to break the price down into something that sounds less daunting. Rather than saying to a customer, “The new roof will be $10,000,” Instead say, “The new roof will be 10k.” Then compare that figure with their overall investment. “Keep in mind the new roof is protecting your $700,000 home investment. Whatever you invest in the roof is likely to increase the value of your home by at least that amount. Plus, of course you don’t have to worry about a hidden leak causing mould damage in your walls that can run into staggering costs and cause health issues.”

Too often, service providers fail to realize just how much customers don’t want to be there. That’s when employees appear to customers to be oblivious and uncaring. Meanwhile, these same employees wonder why customers are so demanding and grouchy. With a little training, employees can come across as astute and empathetic. That makes for a more pleasant experience and less resentment from customers about sending their dollars your way.

This article is based on the bestselling book, “Influence with Ease,” by Hall of Fame motivational speaker, Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit

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