Looking to build strong relationships with your clients? Master their personal styles.
At AnswerLab, one of my main missions is to provide amazing service to our customers. Zappos has pioneered the revolution of customer-focused businesses with its message to spread happiness. Countless business books advise us to learn what the customers want and simply give it to them. What they don't talk about is the importance of understanding the customer's personal style and communication preferences in order to do that. Without that, how do you earn the customer's trust?
Why care about customer style?
Our personal styles govern a great deal about how we react in situations, communicate with one another, and make decisions. Each of us perceives the world around us differently. Our willingness to fulfill a request may increase or decrease simply due to the way in which a request is delivered. Provide too much information, and a client may not respond at all. Provide too little information, and a client may lose trust. How do you know how much information to share? Start by understanding your customers' styles and how to tailor your interactions with them. To do so, you need a simple framework for knowing the minds of your customers.
Find a behavioral model
At AnswerLab, we use the "DiSC" behavioral model to understand personal styles. Many models have been developed (HBDI, Meyers-Briggs, 16PF, among others), but we've found DiSC to be the easiest to adopt, communicate, and observe in others. Every employee on our team receives a DiSC assessment within a month of joining the company. DiSC tells us what motivates us, what scares us, and how we behave in various situations. It also tells us a great deal about how we absorb and process information. Using this model allows us to:
1) Better anticipate customer needs
2) Develop deeper empathy for the customer perspective
3) Make the customer's personal style differences objective rather than subjective
4) Discuss differing perspectives with customers rationally instead of emotionally
The DiSC has four quadrants: dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. Each of us exhibits some combination of these behaviors. Once you learn the model and specifics of the quadrants, you can easily figure out how someone might fit in it, without ever seeing a formal professional assessment. That means you can quickly assess the style of customers and learn how to better communicate with them.
Apply the behavioral model
Once you know the model and how to identify behavioral traits in customers, you can develop a few simple communication norms. Some examples:
Let's get it done! This attitude is indicative of the "dominance" profile. If your customer is high in the dominance quadrant, she'll be extremely motivated to get things done. With these clients, you should be direct, offer alternatives, ensure she "wins," act quickly, and focus on issues. A slow response to this client will particularly frustrate her.
Let's get it right! This is the mindset of a customer who is high in the compliance quadrant. He is motivated to work within established rules, guidelines, and procedures to ensure accuracy and quality. When communicating with a "High C," be sure to listen carefully, be thorough, answer questions correctly, and use written supporting materials. Send one wrong piece of information and the customer will begin to lose trust in everything you do.
Let's be positive! This sounds like an "influence" profile. A customer who ranks high in the Influence quadrant often tries to persuade, promote, or influence others in a positive way. This kind of person is very focused on keeping others happy. When managing this type of customer, be sure to maintain a positive atmosphere, allow her to express herself, take time to chat and talk, focus on the big picture, and be enthusiastic. If you use a confrontational tone, she may retreat.
Let's do it as agreed! This is the "steadiness" profile. These customers tend to be cooperative, supportive, agreeable, and highly motivated to keep the status quo. When working with this someone like this, proceed in a logical order, ask specific questions to find out true needs, provide support, and remember fairness and justice. For this customer, changing process rapidly will make them feel uneasy.
Each style in the DiSC model has a preferred mode of interaction. Learn them, adopt them in your communication, and you'll earn customer trust and loyalty for life.
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Amy Buckner Chowdhry: Amy is chief executive and co-founder of AnswerLab, a digital experience research consultancy in San Francisco. In 2011, Amy received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Woman Award. @amybuckner