Ever been in a conversation with a customer or prospect that missed the mark?  Whether we are responding to objections, trying to communicate value or understand their situation, a key component of being an effective communication is to match intensity.

Matching intensity is not an easy idea. It was first explained to me by an industrial psychologist about 10 years ago. I kind of understood what he was saying and then started observing.  What I found is that many communication ‘misses’ are caused by this mis-match of intensity!

You may have heard that we should ‘mirror’ the prospect or match them emotion for emotion.  And that can be effective.  But  with so many emotions, will that always work? Do you want to match:

  • Anger with anger?
  • Frustration with more frustration?
  • Irritation with irritability?

Probably not.  What we need to do is match the INTENSITY of what they are communicating with like intensity.  Here’s an example:

Customer:  “You just gave me the wrong product after a long wait, I’d like a refund.”  with a medium tone and loudness.

Sales Rep very calmly: “Yes, there was an error in fulfillment. What would you like us to do?”

Customer: “I would like you to take back this product and give me a refund like I asked.” Louder and more anxious.

Sales Rep: “Well, we can do that and the refund will take 30 days to process  through your account.” Very calmly with a lower voice

Customer: “I don’t think YOU get this. I have already paid and waited 30 minutes and now  you gave me the wrong item, I was an immediate refund.” Incredulous and loud.

The calm Sales Rep: “I’m sorry to hear that. We would hate to lose your business. The way we are set up is that we will issue a credit in 30 days.”

Customer: “Well that doesn’t make sense!”  Irritated and increasingly frustrated.

And on the discussion went.  What happened?  The rep was saying some of the right things and trying to be  understanding, but by staying very calm and low-key the customer escalated their emotional reaction and intensity because they didn’t think the rep was ‘getting it’.   This is a real situation – that went further involving a store manager who was ‘calm and collected’ and everyone just kept missing my signals of irritation (yes, I was the irritated customer).  What I needed to know was that someone “GOT IT” and that the gift I was expecting now wasn’t here in time for the holiday.

The disconnect in intensity led to misunderstanding, less engagement and trust. It also has led me to not do business with that company for many years now.  They weren’t showing understanding OR listening to me.  Yes, they heard my words – but they weren’t getting the intensity and emotion of the importance of it.

Instead if the rep had been more animated and emphasized his concern with an increase in tone and energy, we might have headed in a more mutually agreeable direction.

What’s that mean for all of us?  Even when something goes wrong, when we try to  understand and connect with the person – we can increase the customer’s level of satisfaction and loyalty.  In fact,  a study by the Washing D.C. firm Technical Assistant Research Programs found that you can increase customer retention by communicating effectively during a difficult situation.

The key is to match intensity level of whatever the emotion.  It is not to get emotional with them.

This just isn’t about complaints – its also about excitement!  If you are presenting a solution and you notice the energy changing in your prospect – pay attention and adjust.

The adjustment might need to be up or down in intensity – its getting to the right level that matters.  Sometimes I see reps get MORE intense and animated thinking that will get a higher level of interest.  What it usually does is cause the other person to dismiss the discussion as superficial.

For many of us – its not comfortable trying to figure out emotions its much easier to pick up on intensity.  Some ‘intense-level’ signs to watch for:

  • Tone of voice
  • Energy level
  • Pace of speech
  • Level of animation and movement in their body
  • How close they are standing
  • The degree of eye contact
  • Whether they are using ‘feeling’ or ‘thinking’ words

Not an easy concept to grab – but one that can make a HUGE difference when you want to build an intense connection with your customer.