Communication is critical to our relationships, whether personal – with friends, spouses, and children – or professional – with peers and team members. It isn’t enough to just communicate, however. I’ve worked in customer-facing positions for over 25 years – starting as a cashier at the local grocery store in high school and summers as a waitress at the local country club – and have learned that effective communication with a customer is 10% the message being delivered and 90% how the message is delivered.
In a client-facing industry, we deal with many different personalities, each of whom may react differently to the same message. Whether answering an email or a phone call, or meeting face to face, you never know what the next request will be, who it will come from, or what personality will come with it. How you react could make or break a deal.
We provide our teams with the tools and skills to be prepared to handle any circumstance using these three strategies:
Lead with Excellence
The top priority should be customer experience and satisfaction. For example, we focus on cultivating close relationships, being responsive, and working as strategic partners, because when our customers grow, we grow. When you make excellence the goal, it’s easier to eliminate the noise, identify the objective, and accelerate reaching a positive outcome. Lead with a focus on working collaboratively toward a mutual goal and make sure a task is seen through until the customer is completely satisfied.
Leverage Active Listening
There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to every question, and active listening is a critical tool customer service teams can rely on to be successful. It's important to take the time to listen, make sure the person knows they are heard, understand the source of their stress, and follow the issue through to resolution.
Each of these active listening techniques can help you understand not only what the customer’s question is, but what their problem is – even if the problem isn’t what they’re asking. Open-ended questions help you gain a better understanding of what the customer is looking to achieve and help you provide the best options to help the customer solve their problem.
Understand Personality Types
The third, and most critical skill in customer service, is understanding the personalities you may encounter. Knowing your personality type is valuable to understanding how you communicate best, understanding how others may communicate differently than you while saying the same thing, and how you communicate effectively with different personality types.
To learn more about personality types, consider taking the infamous Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. It may sound familiar; many completed it at some point in college, or upon arriving at a new company. Based on your responses, the MBTI provides you with one of 16 different personality types that categorize you as extrovert/introvert, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. There is also the Merrill-Wilson test, a simplified model that categorizes people into four different personality types: Analytical, Driver, Amiable, and Expressive.
Understanding how different personality types prefer to communicate when you’re in a customer service role helps to avoid misunderstandings and roadblocks. Rather than becoming frustrated when the message doesn’t seem to be getting through, we encourage a pause. Ask yourself if the person is being difficult, or if their communication style is different from yours. This pause can help defuse tense conversations, direct the conversation positively, and accelerate reaching the desired outcome.
In customer service, you won’t always know who your next call or ticket is from, which makes understanding different personality types, and how to communicate with them, critical to success. Utilizing active listening techniques to help tune into personality type cues help you determine how best to handle individuals differently. It allows the customer service teams to pivot faster and avoid unnecessary cycles of back and forth by communicating in a way that is easy for the receiver to understand.
By adjusting how they interact, your customer service team can save themselves from the cycle of stating and re-stating, clarifying, and convincing and accelerate delivering results, simply by adjusting their communication for the audience.