Whether you work in customer service or sales, you’re going to be interacting with a variety of people, all of whom have specific needs. While their needs are important, how you communicate with them is just as critical to providing great service or closing a deal. The way customers communicate usually falls into one of the buckets explained below.
The Common Customer Types
#1 The Friendly
These customers are chatty and conversational, with high energy levels. They emphasize their preference for informal communication, so you should be prepared for plenty of small talks and delayed entry into the business discussion or customer service issue. Relationships and a mutual comfort level are important here, so you’ll want to try and match their energy levels, and be as pleasant as possible. Also, keep in mind it can be easy for these friendly customers to wander off into tangents, so you may have to cheerfully guide them back to the original purpose of the discussion.
#2 The Business-Oriented
Dispense with the small talk here, because business-oriented customers want to get straight to the point and do not have time for leisurely discussions. Their tone will likely be neutral and professional, and they will want to address their needs or problems quickly. Keep the conversation short and to the point – they want to know how to get the results they’re looking for.
#3 The Visionary
Like friendly customers, visionaries are high-spirited and talkative. The distinction lies in the fact that the visionaries will want to explore ideas and the grander scheme of things. Minutiae and nitty-gritty details are of much lesser interest and priority. While every meeting or conversation involves the necessary amount of detailing, stick only to the essential specifics with this group otherwise. You’ll need to be flexible here – let them express their thoughts and opinions, and allow yourself to be swept into their enthusiasm.
#4 The Cautious and Skeptical
Be prepared for a serious-minded dialogue with the cautious, skeptical types. They’re going to doubt and question your solutions so you can expect to receive early objections and a long list of hard questions. No matter how much they press you, maintain a calm, neutral, and professional presence. Facts and data are of primary importance to this customer type. As logic-oriented individuals, they’ll appreciate a structured outline of what you are proposing, over and above your conversational skills. Also be sure to give them space to mull over everything you offer, since they prefer to deliberate over their decisions.
Now you might be saying, “Hey, I’m more than one of these!”. True. Many people don’t fall neatly into one category and may combine elements of multiple types. But there will still be a dominant communication style that will shine through during the interaction.
Figuring Out Who They Are
Naturally, the next part of the process lies in figuring out what primary type you’re dealing with when you encounter someone for the first time. To decode the mystery, focus on actively listening to them. Observe details like their vocal tone, eye contact, facial expression, and other forms of nonverbal communication. Someone who makes less eye contact, for example, is more likely to fall into the category of business-oriented, or cautious.
The biggest tip-off is the things they say and talk about. If they are comfortable volunteering personal information, they are most likely friendly. On the other hand, if they are asking specific, pointed questions about your product, they’re probably the cautious or skeptical type.
Another thing to keep in mind is that because of the frequency of composites, where people can have aspects of more than one type, don’t be surprised if on one occasion, someone is initially friendly and at another instance they’re business-oriented. Therefore, you’ll need to be flexible and adapt to the situation as well as the person, based on the present situation.
Let’s look at some example snippets of conversation for each of the types. In this scenario, you’re a customer service representative for a cable television provider. You’re speaking with customers who are current subscribers, potentially interested in upgrading to a higher package.
Customer: Game of Thrones is such a great show. I watched it every week at my sister’s house and I’m excited it’s coming back this year. But sometimes it’s such a pain making the drive across town, especially when the weather is bad. One time, we had a really bad snowstorm and I almost decided to skip that week because of how horrible the roads were.
You: It really is such a great show, and I hear you on the bad weather. Who is your favorite character?
Customer: Daenerys Targaryen. She’s so awesome! Plus, dragons! Dragons are so cool.
You: I know, right? And her list of titles is so awesome! Okay, sounds like the ‘Movie Lovers’ package would be the best option for you. You’ll receive all the HBO channels, so yay, Game of Thrones! Maybe you can invite your sister to come watch at your house some weeks then. You’ll also receive all the Showtime and Starz channels, so you can check out other cool series you might be interested in like Homeland and Outlander.
Customer: That sounds great! Tell me more.
Notice how in this conversation, you’re using the customer’s own language, engaging in relevant small talk by asking about their favorite character, and providing added value by suggesting similar shows that the customer might be interested in.
Customer: I really like sports and want the best package available. What do you recommend?
You: Which sports do you follow?
Customer: Football and basketball, both college and pro.
You: In that case, I’d recommend our ‘Premium Sports’ package. You get the NFL Network, NBA TV, the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC Networks, the Fox College Sports regional channels, and ESPNU.
Customer: What about NFL Sunday Ticket and NBA League Pass?
You: NBA League Pass is available as a separate purchase for $179.99 for the season and isn’t included in the package. We don’t offer NFL Sunday Ticket, but you can watch Thursday night games on NFL Network, which you can’t with your current subscription.
Customer: Okay, thanks. I’d like to hear more about the Fox College Sports channels before I decide.
In this dialogue, you’re getting straight to business, making sure you ask a qualifying question before making any recommendation. You’re also anticipating the customer’s disappointment over the lack of a Sunday ticket by pointing out that the higher tier lets them watch the Thursday games they can’t otherwise access.
Customer: I’m on the road a lot for work, and I have to leave my family often sometimes. I’d love to be able to watch Cartoon Network in my hotel room after work at the same time my kids are watching it at home, so we can Facetime and see and hear each other’s reactions to shows we’re watching simultaneously. I think my kids would get a kick out of that, I’d like to be able to do that.
You: That sounds wonderful! It’ll be a great way to unwind and it’s such a sweet gesture for your kids that they will definitely love and appreciate. I’d suggest getting the ‘Family Fun’ package. It includes a lot of kids’ channels, including Cartoon Network and Disney. We also have a free app, Cablecom Mobile, that you can download onto your tablet and phone. With this app, you’ll be able to watch most of the channels remotely, including Cartoon Network and Disney.
Customer: That’s exactly what I’m looking for. I really like the idea of a free app. It’ll help us out a little financially not having to pay extra for that. Speaking of which, how much is the Family Fun package per month?
Here, you’re painting a picture of the customer relaxing and connecting with family, adding to the vision they have in mind. You also used specific details relevant to their interests.
#4 Cautious and Skeptical
Customer: I’m thinking about upgrading my subscription, but I’m not sure. It seems like an awful lot of money for something I might not use much.
You: I can certainly understand that you want to make sure you’re getting value out of a possible upgrade. To help you with that, I’ll ask you some questions to find out what packages you use most often, talk about how you can get the most out of a subscription upgrade, and explain how you can easily cancel the upgrade if you later decide you don’t like it. Does that sound okay to you?
Customer: Yes, alright. Go ahead.
With this snippet, you’re reassuring the customer that they’re right to want value, appealing to their logical sense by presenting a coherent, organized agenda tied to their needs for the call, and pre-emptively anticipating and countering a possible objection by highlighting that they can cancel at any time. The latter is important because it addresses the risk that the customer voiced.
As you can see, knowing the four primary customer types is important to providing excellent customer service and capturing sales. Addressing each one in their preferred communication style requires different strategies, as the example dialogues indicate. Developing versatility in your approaches to communicating will foster stronger relationships and make you better at customer service and sales.