Comment: What is the line between persuasion and manipulation?

The right values will build a loyal and profitable customer base, says Reality Training managing director Bob Morrell

Manipulation: “Controlling someone or something to your own advantage, often dishonestly or unfairly.”
Persuasion: “The action of persuading someone.”

So manipulation is negative. Persuasion is simply being persuaded – if the persuasion has a negative tone, then I guess that’s manipulation.

So in your company, which of these are you actively engaged in?

Many will say – ‘That’s obvious, we persuade people to book our holidays.’

So within your sales force how many use one of the following strategies?

• That’s the last seat on the plane…
• Are you looking to book, today?
• We need to book by tonight or lose the availability…
• I need to check with my manager….
• Yes, I’ve been there…

Picking these apart, they’re all entirely manipulative.

No-one believes it’s the last seat on the plane. Even if it still work for you, you’re manipulating people to book. You’re actually lying to them, another word for that is fraud. What does that matter if they were likely to book that holiday anyway and you’re just giving them a little push? It matter’s because you’re manipulating them, dishonestly.

If the person isn’t looking to book today then that means you’ve tested their intention and now you can give them poor quality service whilst you wait for the customer who is looking to book today. What this question means is ‘Can I quickly get rid of you so I can work with a more valuable customer?’ You’re challenging the customer to prove their worth to you before you prove your value to them. This is rude and manipulative. You’re asking them to commit to book before you’ve shown them something they actually want and when they mention the high price later you know they’re struggling psychologically, because they already said they want to book today.

The fact that you want the customer to book now has very little to do with availability – every traveller on Earth, probably appreciates that every holiday or flight or hotel is subject to availability. If we lose that one, there’s always another almost the same, but you want me to book now because you have a target to hit. This is manipulative because if the customer is persuaded to book then they will and your sudden lie about low availability is trying to prove ‘scarcity’ but the truth is that if you can’t prove that something really is scarce I know you’re just manipulating me to make a decision, more for your benefit than for mine.

Of course most people don’t need to check with their manager, they’re simply making the customer sweat whilst they pretend to ask for a further discount. They are pretending that they are giving you special treatment, asking for a special deal which no other customer can have. When the customer is told that ‘my manager has said I can offer you…’ this is a lie – a manipulative strategy to make you want this deal more. Even if the agent has spoken to a manager to get permission, they are also showing you that they are not empowered to make commercial decisions in any way.

Lastly, claiming you have been to every destination you’re asked about, may sound like a good idea – but again, you’re lying. Pretending that you are an expert will mean that when you’re found out you’ve lost a customer forever.

Reading this back, it’s all about lying. When a customer is sold something well, with integrity then they will feel good about the purchase and you’re 10 times more likely to retain that customer.  If you manipulate them to book then you’ll feel good. At the back of the customer’s mind will be a nagging doubt.

Those nagging doubts kill customer retention and loyalty. I’d say it’s more than a training issue. It’s about values which many managers will have eroded over years of habitual lying and encouraging their team to do the same. It’s about brands really understanding how to build a loyal and profitable customer base over brands who really don’t care about their customers.


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