The pandemic has turned usually calm people into anxious customers. Understanding how they respond in the face of uncertainty helps us engage more empathetically.
I have a newfound respect for real estate people. I used to think it was an easy job with high commissions. Now I’m not so sure it’s that easy. They likely deal with people at their worst. At their most stressed. And they work to get these anxious customers the ideal deal for them.
In the last couple of weeks my agent helped me complete a sale of a condo made difficult because it has above market high fees. And because I’ve decided to rent a condo for now, turn around quickly and secured a lease at where I am going next. Believe me, there have been multiple days of high drama in the last two weeks.
Selling or buying a home is an anxiety inducing situation, even if you are someone who doesn’t typically suffer from anxiety. It’s human nature to react in this type of situation. Or for me, catching myself when I reacted so I could then act better.
I’ve heard from multiple sources that under stress people can often react in one of two ways. Either by over functioning or by under functioning. (One such source is Brené Brown. Discussed in this podcast episode from early in the pandemic.)
By-the-way… I’m an over functioner.
At one point in the last two weeks, when I changed my mind about my priorities for the new place, I ended up anxiously searching online and sending links to my agent. Until I caught myself. Then I took a breathe and texted him that I was letting go, going for a walk, and would wait for his recommendations. Lol.
The next day.. on our drive over to what turned out to be the ideal place that I am moving into… I struck up a conversation about whether he has anxious customers. And if he sees this over functioning and under functioning in his clients.
He said yes, he does. Some people do get involved in the search. He also added kindly, that he knew in my situation we were pressed for time, so it was helpful I shared ideas with him.
Some people under function and don’t want to participate at all. I said, isn’t that a risk too. Might they buy something that isn’t ideal. Regret it later and blame him. Isn’t that damaging for referrals. He said, yes, he works at making sure that they own the decision for what they are buying.
I used to see this when I managed large project rollouts at Telcos around the world. My counterpart of the company often had a lot vested professionally in the project going well. It was often a prestige position in their country and industry. Sometimes they under functioned by leaving it all to the vendor – and then deflecting blame when issues occurred. Or they over functioned by micro-managing the vendor. Once I had someone who used to scream at me in meetings when things didn’t go well. Hmmm.
The reason that I am sharing these war stories is because I think this type of customer anxiety is showing up more and more in the pandemic. People are anxious. Maybe not always about the business at hand. But they are bringing it with them. So, it’s showing up in industries that typically didn’t encounter it before.
And it seems that though things are getting better, there is still two steps forward one step back feel to things. (Thankfully there is not longer a rush on toilet paper. That type of anxious buying does feel like an ancient memory, lol.) In some ways the anxiety can be simmering and creep in when we don’t expect it.
So how do we do business in an anxious world? When uncertainty about the future is so widely experienced. When not only the customer but we ourselves might be engaging from a position of fear?
I think some of the answer is the stories I’ve told above. From the things I saw my cool calm real estate agent do. I would sum it up as follows.
- Recognize when your customers are people who may over function when anxious. Cut them some slack. Flex around it, while remaining focused on the job at hand. Don’t just assume they can do it without you – remain engaged. Demonstrate your value. Build trust.
- Recognize when your customers are people who may under function when anxious. Find opportunities to engage them. Involve them in decision making. Don’t just assume that they are happy with your propositions. Look for validation that they see your value. Build trust.
- Spend some time on introspection. Know your preferred over/under functioning style. Catch yourself when you go there. Remind yourself of how you engage when you are calm and work at doing that. Practice wellness. Trust yourself.
The pandemic has brought forth a lot of changes in how we live and how we work. Even when the day comes that we will be truly post-pandemic, some of those changes will remain. Make sure that one of those changes is to better understand your customers. That you consider what is going on with them that might be influencing how they engage with you. And that you move forward to ideal outcomes together.