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Introducing Customer Mind Control

How to Ethically Control Your Client's Behavior in 105 words or less.

We've all been there. Maybe it was with a new customer. Maybe it was with an old customer, but somewhere along the way, you got blind sided with an angry customer.

Not quite sure why it happened. After all, you didn't make a mistake. You actually fixed the problem. You even went through great lengths to fix the problem. You went over and above what was required to produce a real fix for the problem, not just a band-aid solution.

Yet they were still angry, furious, and unreasonable. This whole fiasco was entirely preventable because...

There are 3 ways to control your customer's behavior as if it were a Jedi Mind Trick

1. Setup Lucid Expectations

When a customer has a problem, and they pick up the phone to call you, they already have an idea or expectation of what kind of service they are going to get. They may believe that you are going to drop what you're doing to run over there to fix their printer problem. They may think that you are just too busy, and therefore won't have time for them. They may think that they are the only person ON THE PLANET that has any problems, and that you should be honored to service their PC. Regardless of what their expectation is, you need to give them a respectful dose of reality.

This is where setting boundaries and expectations begins.

Let's take an example situation to show the issue more clearly:

A customer calls in, and says " My computer has been blue-screening all day, and I just can't take it anymore. I tried to fix it, but I think I just made it worse. Now it won't even turn on. I am bringing it over there by 4:00pm, but I need it back tomorrow."

If you were listening carefully you heard the customer's expectation. They want a non-crashing computer in 24 hours. Most IT firms, especially small ones and single shingle guys, aren't going to have the ability to do that. In fact, most IT firms and even internal help desks are going to require that this guy wait in line like everybody else.

There is only so much computer genius to go around.

But, you can't just tell them that they are going to have to "wait in line like everyone else." That's just rude and poor customer service. You can't just take the computer in, and then call them later to tell them it is taking longer than planned. You have to set the bar ultra low.

Explain, in a very professional manner, the process you are going to take the computer through. Explain to them, in nerdy detail, exactly what you are going to do to fix the problem. They probably won't understand it, and in fact you are using this as a technique to overwhelm their brain into realizing that it probably is not going to be a 15 minute job.

Of course, you cannot lie. You cannot exaggerate. Be truthful and detailed. There is a difference.

Next, explain to them that while you will not guarantee that it will be fixed tomorrow, you can guarantee that there will be a diagnosis and we'll know what the problem is by tomorrow.

Then, give them something to do. Help them get setup on a laptop. Show them how to use a service like Outlook Web Access for Exchange or so they can get their email. Spend 20 minutes preparing them to be without their computer.

Setting up expectations in this manner allows them to emotionally accept that they are just not going to have their computer for the next day(or couple of days).


If they have any hope that you will have it fixed by tomorrow, they will keep their original expectations. Then, later, even though you told them it "probably" won't be ready tomorrow, they will be disappointed. But, when you tell them the truth: there is no way it will be ready tomorrow, they can emotionally accept it and devote their emotional energy to something else.

2. These are not the Droids you are looking for.

How to "label" your customers so they will do your bidding
Customers need to be told what to do. If they knew what to do, they would be colleagues, not customers.

Therefore, label them as intelligent beings that know what they are doing, and give them confidence that they are doing the right thing. Further label them as reasonable, sentient beings to keep them calm and cool.

To continue our example from above, you could use the following script:

"John, you are a business man, and a real down to earth person. So I know you
                      will understand when I tell you that there is no way I can guarantee that this
                      computer will be fixed by tomorrow because I haven't even gotten it on the bench to
                      look at it yet. I'd love to promise you that it will be working and ready for
                      you tomorrow, but I know you'll appreciate the truth because it will allow you
                      to make an educated decision on how to plan out the rest of your day. Would you
                      agree that this is reasonable?" 

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In the first sentence, we have labeled our customer, John, as "a business man" who is "down to earth". This frames up his logic sensors that this is indeed who he is, and he should act accordingly.

Next, we provide the all important because. Remember when you were a kid and you wanted some new toy (Simon Says, Etch-a-sketch, the Atari 2800 complete with two controllers and Space Invaders, whatever). Your Mom or Dad probably told you "no." So, being the inquisitive child you were, you asked why, and they said "because I said so."

If you were like most nerds, the because I said so was worth crap... because YOU said so. It wasn't a good reason. Adults are the same way. You have to provide a GOOD because.

Now that you have already labeled John as reasonable, you make your because statement a reasonable one: "I can't guarantee it will be fixed because I haven't even seen it yet."

That's right. You have admitted that you are not Harry Houdini. You cannot pickup your IT 8-ball, and tell the customer " All signs point to your LSP layer being broken" and have the diagnosis be correct, and the fix be a 20 minute deal that you complete while watching downloaded episodes of House.

Next, make him feel important. " I'd love to promise that for you." Express your desire to empathize with his situation.

Next, show respect, and label yourself as his team member:

"I know you'll appreciate the truth because it will allow you to make an educated decision on how to plan out the rest of your day."

Lastly, ask him to agree with you. " Would you agree that this is reasonable?"

So let's review. You tell the customer they are smart. You tell them they are reasonable. You give them a reasonable reason why you cannot fulfill their needs, then empathize with them. Remind them that you are on the same team, and then ask them to agree with you.

This is a formula that will diffuse just about any demanding situation.

3. Jump over the bar like Jack Free Running on Jumping Stilts Over the Candle Stick

Sometimes this is easy. Sometimes, a customer will bring you a crashed computer that won't boot. Then you find out there is a floppy in the drive. Eject floppy, reboot. Fixed. Cash Check.

Sometimes this is not easy. That's why setting up expectations and using the labeling technique are so important.

So let's continue our example to its ultimate conclusion. You finally get the PC, put it on the Bench, look at the event logs and see that there is a video driver crashing the box. A quick Google search reveals that this is a known problem, and that there is a fix: just download the new driver. After a total of 20-30 minutes, you've swapped out the drivers, rebooted the machine, and are no longer able to reproduce the problem. It's fixed.

Now what? You just told the guy there is NO WAY it will be ready this quick. You told him that he better bust out his abacus, because he's not going to be using calc.exe for a VERY long time.

Now, you prepare your "aw shucks" hero speech.

You call your client, and you say: "John, you remember how I told you that there was no way I would have this computer ready today? Well... it's ready."

"WHAT? Already?" John exclaims in ecstasy.

"Yep. We got lucky on this one because it was a problem I've actually seen before. So you can come pick it up whenever you like."

How do you think John feels? There he was. At home (or work) sitting at his chair. Looking at the dusty square on his desk where his laptop used to sit. Sadly staring at the docking station that had nothing in it. His puppy dog eyes filled with tears because he could just feel the emails piling up. Then, up in the sky, it's a bird! it's a plane! no! It's super geek! And he fixed your computer ahead of schedule!

This is the kind of service that makes customers come back again and again. It makes them loyal. It makes them refer you to others.

The service itself is no different than what you've been doing. The difference is in the controlling of your customer's expectations.

These are not the Droids you're looking for, you handsome, intelligent, devil you. But I'm sure you'll find them. You're a great storm trooper.

Comments (3)

Author of the Year 2011
Top Expert 2006

Another fine Article you have put together.
The advice is unassailable, but the fun part is reading through it multiple times and finding something new to chuckle about every thyme.

"Yes" vote above.
Author of the Year 2009

Great article.   A Good Read :-)  Got my vote.
Top Expert 2010

Any article that references the good old Jedi Mind Trick gets my vote.

Yet another terrific "how to be a professional" article from this author, and one that would work in any line of business, not just technology.


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