What to do when your client is in crisis

In most cases, our clients/customers come to us in a relatively calm state and we can react to them in our usual business manner.  But what needs to shift if your client is in crisis mode?

Picture_1_2 I pondered this question this weekend, as I was a client in crisis mode.  The perfect time for some marketing observation! 

As many of you know, I was struck down by a kidney stone (actually 2) this weekend.  If you haven’t ever had one – it is the most excruciating pain imaginable.  They call it a writhing pain, because when you have one, you are in such pain, you can’t hold still.  You literally writhe in agony.

I’ll give you my prognosis at the tail end of the post but for now, let’s look at what needs to shift when a client is in crisis.  And yes, that’s how small a kidney stone is.  Humbling to say the least.

They need you to acknowledge that they are in crisis.  They want to know that you know.  This is not the time for "can you hang on second" or "do you want some coffee."  When I staggered into the ER hunched over, clammy and in pain, they didn’t wait to take my insurance information.  They whisked me back to a room immediately.

They need to be your only priority until the crisis has passed.
  This isn’t the time to take another call or put them off until the next morning.  They need you now.  Tammy, my ER nurse, didn’t leave my side until she had the IV started and she’d administered the first dose of morphine. 

They need reassurance.  They want you to tell them you’re going to be at their side until it’s over.  This isn’t the time to sugar coat things or say it’s going to be okay if it isn’t. But they want to know they won’t be going it alone. 

They need empathy.
  If a client is in crisis, they’re most likely angry, scared, worried, sad or in pain.  They want you to recognize that emotion in them and help them get it under control.  Sheila, the attending nurse practitioner made sure I knew that she was going to be aggressive with the pain meds until I was comfortable.  She wanted me out of pain as much as I did.  (Well, maybe not quite as much!)

They want to see action.
  That’s the most reassuring element of all. They want to know you are doing something to get them out of their crisis. The whole ER team hustled me in and out of the CAT scan and got me the meds I needed quickly.  When the morphine wasn’t stopping the pain, they rapidly moved up the pain meds food chain until they found one that did. 

Dealing with a client who is in crisis mode is usually not pretty. They’re in full panic mode.  But, if you can stay with them and get them through the crisis – you’ve earned a loyal client who will come to you in confidence, knowing you’ve seen them at their worst.

How have you dealt with clients in this frame of mind?

As for the stone saga – I’ve still got the two stones.  They haven’t passed yet.  Right now, they’re causing a tolerable amount of pain, so I am temporarily sprung from the hospital.  The bummer about kidney stones is their unpredictability.  These could pass without causing me much more pain and I could get by with the prescription meds. Or in a blink, they could send me back to the hospital.  But…I know which hospital I’d go back to.  Thanks to their understanding of how to deal with a client in crisis!

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17 comments on “What to do when your client is in crisis

  1. Gavin Heaton says:

    Through all the pain and morphine you are still making us all think!

    Seems like we had a parallel experience this Easter 🙁 … but there was something else we found important (or maybe an extension to point 1) — the need to listen and comprehend — and perhaps at times to suspend judgement.

    When in crisis you often have an acute sense of what is going on and you really need the expert you rely on (doctor, nurse, PR, marketer, politician) to listen and make decisions based on your unique situation — not something “by the book”.

  2. Mark Goren says:

    This post epitomizes the definition of having a blogger’s mindset.

    Most people would sit in the hospital writhing in it – and you come of the experience with a great post.

    Hope it passes without more pain, Drew.

  3. Who else would take his “situation” and make it a lesson in marketing?!?

    A true professional… or just obsessed? Hope you’re feeling better. Hope the hospital food doesn’t make it worse.

    Keep Cooking

  4. Jim Kukral says:

    Good to hear you back in action Drew.

  5. Wow, talk about suffering for your art 🙂

    Great way to look at this, Drew. Glad you’re on the mend.

  6. Drew, welcome back! I really expected another guest post or 2 – Mike did a great job! Great to have you back, and so inspiring, too! Must be the drugs… 🙂

  7. David Reich says:

    Glad to see you’re back, Drew. Leave it to a marketer/blogger to view the ER experience from a marketing/customer relations perspective.

  8. Charlie says:

    Great post Drew. Your strength in inspiring. Even with the stones which are causing you much pain, you’re still well equipped for work. It’s really different if done through experience.

  9. Gavin,

    Great point. When someone is in crisis — they want to be able to rely on someone else to do the rational thinking for them AND have the hero mentality — be willing to bend the rules to do what needs to be done.

    Glad your situation had a good outcome!


  10. Mark,

    In fairness, I did my share of writhing too! I have had some bad ER experiences which made me acutely aware of how good this one was.

    Thanks for the good wishes.


  11. Andrew,

    Hmm, most would probably opt for obsessed!

    As you well know — life is filled with marketing lessons. Sometimes you can’t shut off your brain and ignore them!


  12. Jim & Tony,

    Thanks for the good wishes. Here’s hoping the stones just pass quietly in the night!


  13. CB —

    I’ve loved having some guest posts of late. But it feels good to be back in the driver’s seat!


  14. Lewis,

    Yes, the hospital was great. Unfortunately, I’ve had stones in several cities and even on a plane.

    So I have come to truly appreciate a good ER experience.

    Keep sending those brain waves!!


  15. David & Charlie,

    Thanks for your good thoughts. I’m guessing you are the same way — you see marketing, PR and leadership lessons in your everyday life events.

    It’s our focal point so we can’t help but spot them. Good for us we have a blog to express them!


  16. Jane Greer says:

    Glad to hear you’ll be okay, Drew. Geez, if you can write like this with your brain on morphine….! You do know the Lyndon Johnson story, don’t you? He got a stone and had something important coming up–a debate or something–so he just jumped up and down until he passed it. They don’t make ’em like that any more!

  17. Jane,

    I’d never heard the Lyndon Johnson story but when I googled it — it was all over. Of course, if jumping up and down really dislodged a stone, I’d be a jumpin’ fool! 🙂


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