In the mid 1960s, Dr. David Merrill and Roger Reid started researching how social styles – the way we communicate with one another – can impact personal interactions and business relationships. They believed an individual’s social style could be identified by measuring his or her assertiveness and responsiveness. The resulting research unveiled four social types: amiable, expressive, analytic and driver.
For the business community – particularly those in the service industry – these four styles can help inform the way you interact with different types of customers. Someone who is highly responsive and assertive (an expressive) is going to respond best to an approach that is very different from what would work well for someone who is not at all assertive or responsive (an analytic). Knowing the difference and being able to adapt your own social style is an essential part of providing exceptional, customized service to your client families.
Customers with the amiable social style are often talkative and personable. These customers will visit with you, sharing personal details and asking questions about your home life. They are good listeners and tend to be more relationship-oriented than task-focused.
Amiables will be most comfortable in inviting workspaces – lounges with comfortable couches or conference rooms with warm colors. They will want to talk first before getting down to business and will often have a difficult time being direct. Saying no will be challenging for amiables because they lean toward people-pleasing behavior patterns. When working with these customers, it’s a good idea to leave space for relationship building up front and then gradually direct the conversation toward business. Individuals who fall into this category will likely find the most benefit from focusing on memorializing their loved one in personal, unique ways, with a lot of focus on storytelling.
Customers with the expressive social style are just that – expressive. These individuals tend to make direct eye contact and speak quickly, using animated facial expressions, vocal inflection and hand gestures. They are spontaneous and decisive. Expressives are often described as “dreamers” because they enjoy coming up with big ideas. Like amiables, expressives are very social and personable, but they tend to be much less disciplined with their time. Many people who have worked in creative fields with high visibility are expressives – including Johnny Carson, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams.
When working with these customers, it’s important to engage with them, let them dream a little and then reel them back into the business at hand. Expressives tend to make decisions quickly resulting from a very clear vision for their services (or the services of their loved ones), but they are also likely to change directions just as rapidly. It’s important to remain nimble and adept at responding to requests from expressives. These individuals will be most comfortable when they are leading the charge – especially when they are in the spotlight – so try to find ways for them to feel in control of the conversation while still accomplishing your goals.
Analytics are what many people picture when they think of bankers, accountants and physicians. They are much less relational than amiables and expressives, focusing instead on formal, structured interactions. These individuals tend to be very cautious, asking a series of detailed questions before coming to a decision. They are serious and disciplined in personal and professional interactions and are slow to form friendships, often resulting in a perceived detachment or aloofness. Individuals like Albert Einstein, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg are analytics.
You cannot give analytics too much detail. When you meet with this type of customer, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. You may have to explain things more than once in order to satisfy their need for precise information. These individuals are often great candidates for pre-planning, as they like to be prepared and have all the facts before making a decision. They are also likely to want to gather information, take some time to think everything over and then return to finalize their arrangements.
Drivers are people you can count on to get things done. They are productive and task-focused and tend to demonstrate impatience with inefficiency. These individuals are assertive, decisive and direct. They are far less social than amiables and expressives, preferring to focus on results rather than relationships. Like analytics, drivers don’t excel in social settings, often appearing either too cold or too temperamental. Drivers will be most comfortable in formal settings with individuals who demonstrate a similar level of formality.
These customers are unlikely to want to spend time reminiscing about their loved one, preferring instead to focus on logistics. When you work with drivers, remain professional and concentrate on your goals. Allow them to control the conversation, and answer any questions they have directly and accurately. Don’t volunteer any extraneous information – if they want additional detail, they will ask for it.
WHAT’S MY SOCIAL STYLE?
Before you can decide how best to serve your customers, you need to understand your own personality style. There are a number of free surveys you can complete online, but many of you may be able to identify your primary style simply by considering the descriptions above. You might also find it helpful to have your staff go through the same process. Knowing your style – and those of your co-workers and employees – makes it easier to identify your organizational and relational strengths as well as those areas where you may need to work a little harder to adapt and diffuse discomfort.
Once you know your own style, work to identify your funeral business customers’ social styles so you know when you need to fill the gap between their communication style and your own. There are many resources available to guide you through a more formal analysis, but you might find it beneficial to start simply by observing interactions with different personality types and noting which type of interaction works best for each of these social styles. The more you practice, the better you will become at adapting to meet the unique needs of each of your customers.
Krista Frank is the Senior VP - Customer Service of Homesteaders Life Company. Her experience in insurance and financial services offers a wealth of innovation and expertise in support of Homesteaders' goal to elevate customer satisfaction and funeral home success. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.