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Note from Columnist—Though I’ve been a regular contributor to LAND publications for a few years, I’m excited to pen this new column, The Wild Side of Business. It will principally focus on the enterprise aspects of wildlife-based recreation that takes place on private lands across the country. Though emphasis will tend often focus on hunting programs, which happen to be reflective of my 30 years in the hunting and wildlife management profession, much of the information will also relate to other wildlife-based recreational programs, such as fishing, wildlife photography and wildlife-watching.

In wildlife-based enterprises, such as hunting and fishing lodges and outfits where the proprietor is offering multi-day packages, the company personnel are often living with the clients for several days, which amplifies the challenges associated with accommodating or dealing with testy patrons.

While in Zambia on a Cape buffalo safari about 15 years ago, my professional hunter, Ronnie Sparrow, and I were comparing notes about difficult hunting clients. As we ventured deep into the discussion, Ronnie looked over at me from across the cab of the Land Cruiser and said, “You American guides are sissies. Here in Africa, we sometimes live with our safari clients for three weeks.” With a big grin, he then continued with, “I actually look forward to the difficult clients because it sharpens my customer service skills and creates added challenges that I have come to enjoy!”

Regardless of the industry in question, if the proprietor is operating a business that provides some degree of service to their client base, the company’s personnel will eventually encounter difficult or challenging clients. Let’s face it, some people seem to have a disposition that may be described as grumpy, demanding, unreasonable, combative, edgy, among other similar descriptive terms. Simply put, some people are difficult. Further, in wildlife-based enterprises, such as hunting and fishing lodges and outfits where the proprietor is offering multi-day packages, the company personnel are often living with the clients for several days, which amplifies the challenges associated with accommodating or dealing with testy patrons. I’ve been in the hunting business for over 32 years and have concluded that these types of clients are simply part of the mix, which begs the question, “Are there effective and strategic methods of dealing with these types of clients?” The answer is yes, so let’s look at some 101 strategies.

Have your own wildlife business-related question? Ask Greg here!

Marching in step

Whether it’s salaried employees or third-party contractors in the way of guides, cooks, or wranglers, it’s imperative that the proprietor establishes some fundamental protocols on various operational procedures, including customer service strategies that deal with client issues. Annual in-service seminars, printed documents, and timely emails are all good ways to develop a business culture that pulls support personnel together so that there is a degree of consistency and strategy in how your people deliver service and how they deal with challenges.

Solution management

If a testy client is being fueled by a pressure source that can be remedied, seek out solutions that may provide positive outcomes. Such solution management may require out-of-the-box thinking
at times.

Kill them with kindness

Even with the sourest personalities, many of those testy people will eventually “give in” when those around them are steadfast with a smile and a willingness to please. Smile, be pleasant, be accommodating, and try not to show a chink in that armor.

The sky is not falling

Maintaining a sense of perspective is important for the support team, including seeing the big picture and realizing that the things are generally not as bad as they seem.

It’s temporary

Though you may have to live with someone for several days who is a proverbial jerk, once again maintain a perspective that in the next few days the jerk will be out of your life and you can move along.

Show empathy

By placing yourself in the shoes of your adversary, you can occasionally see things from their point of view, even if you do not agree with their point of view. Nelson Mandela was a master at being able to build bridges between conflict through his amazing empathetic approach. This often requires putting aside your personal biases in the name of altering the relationship to ultimately achieve positive outcomes.

Confide with other personnel

People being people, we tend to find some sense of relief when we confide or consult with co-workers. Private discussions not only provide a vent to release a little steam, but fellow workers may be able to lend some advice on how to work through such challenging circumstances.

Anger management

Do your very best to not wear your emotions on your sleeve. People tend to telegraph their emotions through verbal comments, facial expressions, and body language. Adversarial people will often feed off of such reactionary responses, so work at disguising these emotions. Avoid confrontational discussions with testy clients.

Treat it like a game

Though this is stretching the mind a bit, one way to deal with difficult clients is to create a mindset where it’s you against them. If the client’s unreasonable behavior gets the best of you, then your adversarial client wins. However, if you can maintain a steady delivery of quality customer service with a good disposition, then you win. So be creative with your mindset, once again thinking outside of the box.

Safety first

Especially in the hunting business, any behavior that compromises the safety of those around them cannot be tolerated. Whether it’s unsafe gun handling practices, bullish behavior around other clients that may lead to head-butting, or any other circumstances that put people at risk, company personnel should intervene at that point, which may ultimately lead to dismissal or eviction of the client from the premise. There should be zero tolerance for behavior that imperils the safety of people.

I’ve often said, “There’s no business like the hunting business,” and some of the characteristics that make the hunting business weird and difficult at times are the same traits that can sometimes apply to other businesses as well. I’ve found that focusing on the things that are under one’s control is the first and best step at ensuring happy clients. But, as previously mentioned, there are some people that seem to be predisposed to be a grumpy sort, so arming yourself with customer service techniques that help address these testy individuals may allow you to win them over or may at least allow you to maintain your sanity. I’ve heard said, “The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer,” but I’ve also heard it said that, “You win some and you lose some,” with the latter of the two quotes perhaps shedding some light on the realities of business.

Have your own wildlife business-related question? Ask Greg here!

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  • Greg Simons received a B.S. degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences in 1987 from Texas A&M University and soon after formed Wildlife Systems, Inc., a company that currently manages hunting operations on over 800,000 acres of private land in Texas and New Mexico. He is also co-owner of Wildlife Consultants, LLC, providing technical assistance to landowners and other entities on habitat management and other wildlife-related needs. Greg is Past President of Texas Wildlife Association, Past Officer of Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, serves on advisory committees for the wildlife programs at Texas A&M University and Tarlton State University, as well as many other committee appointments, and he has given programs around the country on various wildlife and hunting related topics.

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