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How to Understand Your Customers and Do More Business.

Updated on May 19, 2016

It’s often said that ‘communication is the response you get’, meaning that if you give the right message, in the right way, to the right person, at the right time, you should get the right answer – whatever that may be.

But that’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and a lot of variables.

Heart-sink customers.

Have you ever had the experience of a business relationship with a client or customer who made your heart sink whenever he called or came into your office?

Here’s a scenario that might ring a bell:

I know of a corporate events company (we’ll call them Events to Go) who were putting together a travel package for a small pharmaceutical company (we’ll call them Pills R US).

The project leads from the 2 companies were having difficulty with their relationship and the whole deal was in danger of collapsing in a frustrating heap because it seemed that whatever the events company did it wasn’t right for the pharma people.

Fortunately the Events to Go entrepreneurs were undergoing a course of business coaching. When their coach talked to them about communication styles the answer to the problem became clear. Events to Go and Pills R US then went on to work successfully together for some time.

We’re going to talk about communication and behaviour styles in this hub. They will be the most important key to doing more business and better business for you and your company.

What are communication and behaviour styles?

You may have heard of the Myers Briggs personality test and other like it. These tests seek to help us understand ourselves and others in a similar way to the one we’re going to look at here. The advantage of this one is that it’s easy to remember and can be used in any scenario.

This is DISC and it can:

  • improve communication
  • improve customer service
  • improve productivity
  • reduce conflict
  • promote the awareness of differences between people and how to embrace them
  • help with hiring new team members and team building.

Personality and behaviour tests look at what motivates and drives people and how they will behave with a given set of events. We’re all different but DISC and its counterparts look broadly at what we can expect from a person’s responses to varying events.

How does DISC work?

Put briefly, DISC works by using vertical and horizontal lines, crossing at their centre. At the ends of each line is an extreme of behaviour. They look like this:

Like a line between the extremes of boiling and freezing, there are points along the line that are warmer and cooler. This is the same with DISC – some people are more assertive than others and some are more outward looking than others.

We can then gauge a person’s personality by the degree to which he is assertive/receptive, outward or inward looking because he will have certain behaviour traits.

These traits are the clues you’ll use to better understand him. Think of yourself as a behavioural CSI because once you’ve spotted the clues and put them together, you will be able to ‘read’ your team/boss/customers and better help and communicate with them. This will get more done and more sales made!

Different companies produce DISC reports for businesses by producing a list of questions and analysing the results. There are a couple listed in the links box below. Here we’re going to look at general traits that you can observe in everyday situations, so get your lab coat on!

The traits of DISC.

The 2 crossing lines we looked at above create 4 quadrants. The name DISC is an acronym made from the traits those quadrants create: Dominance, Influence, Compliance and Steadiness.

They look like this:

So let’s look at the different traits we might see in each of these quadrants.

Traits in Dominance:

  • If a person is high on the assertiveness scale, they are often very task focused and may not worry too much about what others think of them.
  • They’re decisive and tend to solve problems quickly.
  • They take active and direct action.
  • They’re often risk takers.
  • They’re often competitive.
  • They may be forceful, daring and determined.
  • They’re big picture people so don’t give them too many details.
  • They often have a short attention span – lots of ideas but not too much follow-through.
  • If you look round their office or work space it may appear disorganised.
  • If you’re a ‘D’ you have probably skimmed this article and picked out the points in bold text, the images and some of the bullets but you won’t spend much time on it or read to the end.

Traits in Influence.

  • People with influence are often people focused – hence they you can see them on the scale being outward looking but also assertive.
  • They’re very sociable and keen to meet new people.
  • They’re talkative and interactive.
  • They can be impulsive.
  • They’re charismatic, charming and friendly.
  • They’re often motivated by working towards a public award or prize.
  • This person will be the social ‘glue’ in your work environment, organising social events and someone who knows everyone.
  • If you look round an ‘I’ person’s office or work space there will be a degree or apparent disorganisation and lots of pictures of friends and family on show, along with awards and accolades.
  • If you’re an ‘I’ person and you’ve found this article useful you’ll probably share it on your very popular Facebook page or Tweet it; social networking as well as face to face networking are things you love.

Traits in Steadiness.

  • People in with traits of Steadiness like a more controlled and predictable environment.
  • They like security and discipline.
  • They’re loyal.
  • They are good listeners
  • They’re patient
  • Passive
  • Stable
  • But also outgoing and sociable especially with familiar people and places.
  • Their workspace will probably be fairly tidy with a few pictures of friends and family.
  • If you’re an ‘S’ person (and the majority of most populations are) you might share this article on your Facebook page and/or Twitter page if you’ve found it useful and will probably have read it all the way through.

Traits in Compliance.

  • Compliant individuals tend to stick to the rules and like structure, so standards, procedures and protocols are ideal for them.
  • They detail-focused, like lists, spreadsheets and cataloguing.
  • They’re not often round the watercooler sharing gossip, but prefer to work alone and may be quite shy.
  • To coax them to a social gathering you should tell them where you’re going (and it’s ideal if it’s familiar to them), what time, who will be there and details for the evening’s plan.
  • They like high quality and find others often fall short (think of Sheldon in ‘The Big Bang Theory’).
  • Their workspace will be ordered and tidy – and they will know if something’s been moved!
  • If you’re a ‘C’ person and have found this article useful you’ve probably printed it and filed it, or saved it to a specific location on your computer for future reference.

Summary of the DISC traits
Summary of the DISC traits

But it doesn’t end there...combinations of traits.

You may have read these brief lists of the typical traits in each character type and recognised yourself a little in each of them. That’s because behaviour is situation-dependant so even the most shy and retiring Compliant type will behave like a she-wolf (Dominant) if someone threatens her or her child. So there’s a little of each D I S and C in each of us to varying degrees.

But we have 2 main sets of traits that cover 2 quadrants. You may have found yourself identifying mainly with traits in D and C or D and I; or with those in I and S; or those in S and C. That’s because the traits in quadrants next to each other are complimentary to each other.

Each of us has a quadrant we’re:

  • happiest in when we’re in our natural and contented state and
  • one that we adapt to when we’re under some light stress such as when you’re aware that you’re being observed or when you’re aware of your behaviour.

So for example, you might find that you’re an ‘S’ person most of the time but if you’re making a presentation or at an interview, you become quite talkative and flirtatious – an ‘I’ person.

It looks something like this:

Conflicting personality traits.
Conflicting personality traits.

Personalities that cross the centre X are difficult to deal with. Look at the D-S mix. This person is conflicted between being competitive and dominant and being steady and compliant. The I-C mix is conflicted between being sociable and open and being quiet and detail focused/alone – he may be warm and friendly on one meeting and cold and aloof on another.

Fortunately these are more unusual - and there may be other reasons that the formerly sociable client ignores you – perhaps he hasn’t got his glasses on. If you can understand that this is their personality type it’s easier to work with them.

Certain combinations are ideal for certain job roles.

  • For example a D-I person who has lots of ideas, makes quick decisions and takes risks but can also charm other people to join his adventure makes a great entrepreneur or CEO.
  • An I-S who is sociable and outgoing but also a steady, patient good listener will make an excellent sales or front-of-house person.
  • A C-S with qualities of detail-focus, patience and steadiness will be the one you want to do your brain or heart surgery or be your accountant.

Teamwork and why this is important.

If you’ve ever watched the TV show ‘The Apprentice’ you may have laughed and been bewildered as to why they can’t get on with the task they’ve been set. Of course the program has been cut to make good TV, but one of the reasons they make such heavy weather of what they have to do is that they are all very similar personality types.

They’re all ‘D’ people. Look again at the traits for the ‘D’ person and at the show and you’ll see ‘competitive’, ‘big picture’, ‘forceful’, ‘daring’ etc are all traits for these people.

In a well-functioning team however, you need a mix of personal characteristics as well as a mix of skill sets. People to have ideas; people to develop them and influence others to join in and cooperate in the activities needed to get the project done; people to start and complete tasks and people to take care of the finer detail.

The moral of the story is that when you’re hiring new team members don’t hire people who are the same as you.

How does this fit together to give more sales and better communication?

If we go back to the 2 companies we talked about at the beginning – Events to Go and Pills R US – it transpired that the Events to Go representative was a D-I personality type. He looked at the big picture and gave instructions in vague terms while at the same time being very charming and outgoing.

In the meantime, the Pills R Us representative was an S-C mix – friendly but reserved and, crucially for this business deal, detail focused and wanted to know more specifics about the event that was planned.

This mis-match in their communication styles meant they were frustrated with each other and couldn’t progress to close the deal. Once the Events to Go rep was enlightened he could adapt his communication style and give his customer the detail she needed which gave them both business success.

I hope now you can see that by knowing your own preferences and looking for clues in others you can style your interactions accordingly.

However once you get to grips with DISC it can become addictive and you’ll find that you’re categorising everyone you meet!

Background to DISC.

William Moulton Marston was a lawyer and psychologist and created the DISC model for emotions and behaviour. He also created the Wonder Woman comic and invented the first lie-detector polygraph.

In the early 1920s he studied the concepts of will and a person’s sense of power and the effect they have on personality and behaviour. He published 2 books on the topic and DISC. The first was in 1928, called The Emotions of Normal People and the second in 1931, called Integrative Psychology.


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