If you’re in sales, whenever you’re out pitching your product to potential buyers, no doubt you do your best to highlight its strongest features. You want to get people excited about its value and all the amazing things it could do for them. So too, if you’re in customer success, whenever you’re helping a customer overcome some difficulty or guiding them through an onboarding process, you’re trying to help them succeed by showing them how to best interact with the product to meet their goals. And if your job is to reach out to the most promising users to target with upsells and loyalty incentives, you’re probably basing your decisions on a myriad of usage data.
But in all that focus on hyping the product and forging customer relationships, how much thought have you given to the variations among your customers’ personalities? As it turns out, how you’re communicating with customers can be at least as important as what you’re communicating. Differences in dominant personality traits means that one approach really doesn’t fit all. We know this thanks to scientific, data-driven personality research. Now, you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of personality quizzes and tests out there. And while it’s fun and entertaining to take these quizzes, the results are mostly pure bunk. But there is one personality classifier that’s widely considered to be a scientifically valid system to understand the way our personalities affect our perceptions: It’s known as the Big Five, or the Five Factor Model.
The Big Five
The theory that there are five core personality traits was originally posited in the 1960s, but researchers have been working on and refining the model for decades. By now this model is considered by most researchers to be a reliable and empirically sound construct. The five traits can be remembered with the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE, and they are: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion. Very simply put, these factors break down like this:
- Conscientiousness: On the high end of the scale, this is a tendency to be organized and efficient; on the low end careless and scattered
- Agreeableness: On the high end, this trait manifests as more friendly and compassionate rather than cold or unkind
- Neuroticism: A person who is highly neurotic will be more nervous and anxious; while those on the low end of the scale will be more easy going and confident
- Openness: High openness means someone is likely to be inventive and creative, while low openness leads to a more cautious and consistent approach
- Extraversion: High extraversion is linked to high energy and a outgoing qualities, while those low on this scale are more reserved and solitary
The five personality factors have generally been studied as they relate to learning styles and predictors of success in the workplace. But because these factors fundamentally affect how we perceive and react to the world around us, they play a role in just about every facet of life -- including your customers’ perceptions of you and your product. And two recent in-depth studies by major international universities have explored the relationship between customer satisfaction and these personality types. Granted, the studies were focused on the retail world - but many of the finding have implications for the B2B product world as well. After all, it’s still human interaction.
Predisposed To Be Satisfied
A joint study by the SMC University of Switzerland and the Universidad San Pablo de Guatemala defined customer satisfaction as a state:
[W]here a positive experience compared to actual expectations and previous interactions results in a high satisfaction, which also improves consumers’ loyalty and has a positive relationship with customer service … Thus, loyalty becomes retention and such retention has a significant impact on positive results among companies in the short and long-term.
The study then goes on to describe customer empowerment as a process in which the customer feels that they have full access to the kinds of interactions necessary to fully grasp the processes and information they need to understand the product. In other words, empowerment happens when customers are provided with all the tools they need to make make decisions to tailor a product to their specific needs. Not surprisingly, the study concludes (by way of a lot of math) that customer satisfaction and empowerment are strongly linked to retention.
Next, the researchers wanted to determine which personality traits were most likely to be receptive to this sense of satisfaction and empowerment. And the results may surprise you: They found that “the personality traits of Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism are the ones that influence customer empowerment in a significant way.” They go on to state that “consumers with such personality traits will tend to feel more empowered when interacting with frontline employees using a consultative selling process.”
You probably didn’t expect neuroticism to show up as a trait that’s open to a sense of satisfaction, but it makes sense if you consider that a highly neurotic person may crave the reassurances and in-depth explanations they might receive from a personal interaction, and their propensity towards anxiety and caution may be mitigated by personal assurances. And it’s definitely useful to know that if you’re dealing with customers high in any combination of these three traits that you’ve probably got a leg up, as people high in the traits are predisposed to react favorably to your efforts (as long as you clearly convey value and set expectations correctly, that is).
Unfortunately, the Swiss/Guatemalan study doesn’t provide any further details or guidance in terms of how to tailor your message to the dominant traits of your customers. But another study by the University of Vienna does dig a bit deeper, and provides some important clues to help guide your interactions with customers, from sales to service to targeted campaigns.
Matching Traits to Tendencies
In a nutshell, the University of Vienna study concludes that “matching the message to the personality traits of the target consumer can increase its impact on the customer, thus demonstrating how customized messages are more efficient than mass campaigns.”
While the focus of the Vienna study is also primarily retail, we can make some important inferences about how to foster more successful customer interactions in the B2B product world.
Based on the University of Vienna’s study findings, here are some of the implications when it comes to your customers:
Those high in extraversion are good targets for fostering loyalty -- so the extraverts among your avid users would likely respond well to loyalty incentives. On the other end of the spectrum, high neuroticism can lead to dissatisfaction, and that has a negative effect on loyalty. Make sure to carefully monitor those with high neuroticism and make sure they have the tools they need to succeed. Of course it’s sound practice to make sure all of your customers have the tools they need to succeed -- but those high on the neuroticism scale may have less patience when it comes to waiting for a problem to be solved.
According to the study, those high in traits of openness and extraversion are the most likely to become brand or product evangelists. Not only that, those with high extraversion are more engaged in word of mouth promotions than any other group. But watch out for those high in neuroticism: they have a tendency to engage in vocal complaint behaviors, so make sure to wow them early and often. In fact, you can’t go wrong by wowing *all *your customers early and often -- it will drive avid use. And, in the case of high neurotics, it can save you from bad word-of-mouth.
In line with the Swiss study, the Vienna study found that those high in agreeableness have a propensity to be satisfied in their customer service interactions. They’re also very open to relationship marketing which strengthens commitment. For B2B, this could mean that the human touch may be more effective than, say, emails or less personal means of communication.
Those high in extraversion, it turns out, tend to display overconfidence in many situations. What does that mean for you? Well, a person with this trait may have a skewed sense of confidence when it comes to understanding the value or processes of your product, so don’t always take their displays of confidence at face value -- make sure you’ve clearly conveyed the relevant information and clearly establish that you’re on the same page.
Data-Driven Consumer Choices
Depending on our personality traits, we tend to make data-driven choices based on very different criteria, according to the Vienna study. Low in openness? Then you'll probably be more sensitive to a product’s appearance and more likely to make design-driven decisions. A high level of openness, on the other hand, indicates a likelihood to “focus more inquisitively on other aspects of products, leading them to disregard aesthetic factors.” The takeaway? While a truly successful product will convey concrete value through design, if you know the relative dominance of openness in a given customer, you can focus on that aspect of the product that drives their decision making process.
Response to Communication Styles & Messaging
The University of Vienna study also made some conclusions about how the five core personality traits react to advertisements. But if we think of advertisements as simply a way to convey a message about a product, then we can make some inferences and glean some important insights about how to tailor messages and conversations when dealing with customers, whether through sales, customer success, or targeted incentives. Here’s how it breaks down by trait:
- Extraversion: According to the study, those high in this trait have a: “more favorable attitude toward transformational ads than informational ads, [and a] stronger relationship between [their] attitude towards the ad and [their] purchase intentions.” The takeaway: Highlight the ways in which this product will improve and transform their lives and help them make an emotional connection with the product’s value. Also note that when a when a person strong in this trait expresses a favorable attitude towards your product, they’re probably inclined to purchase it and aren’t just being polite.
- Agreeableness: Those high in this trait also prefer transformational over informational messages, and they also respond to “non-comparative ads [over] comparative ads.” The takeaway: Rather than focus solely on comparing your product to other products, hone in on the standalone value your product can offer
- Conscientiousness: In contrast to the traits above, those high in conscientiousness respond to informational rather than transformational ads and prefer comparative ads rather than noncomparative ads. The takeaway: Focus heavily on the facts and supporting data to sell your product’s value, and demonstrate how it favorably compares to competitors
- Neuroticism: Those high in this trait respond to transformational and comparative ads. The takeaway: It’s not surprising that those prone to anxiety would respond to a pitch that highlights the transformative -- so make sure to proactively soothe their concerns by highlighting the real value you can provide, and show this group how your product favorably compares to the competition.
- Openness: This trait has a more favorable attitude towards transformational ads than informational. The takeaway: Given that this trait indicates a propensity towards inventiveness and creativity, it’s not surprising that a focus on the transformative power of your product would resonate with this group
Okay, so by now you may be wondering how you can easily tell the various personality types apart? Well, part of your job is to play detective: Once you understand how these traits manifest, look for behavioral clues to help you make an educated guess and proceed accordingly. And if all else fails ... it can't hurt to assume everyone is at least a little bit neurotic.