Understanding different communication styles and how to approach each is a skill that can be very helpful for anyone, and can directly impact the work performance of customer service agents. It’s important to understand not only what customers are saying, but how they are saying it, to influence positive outcomes. This guide breaks down the differences between communication styles, why it’s important to recognize them, and how customer service agents can adapt their approaches to each style.
4 Types of Communication Styles: Quick Comparison
Customer service agents should familiarize themselves with these common communication styles. This high-level list explains each, with more detailed descriptions below.
|“I understand what you’re saying. Let me give it a try.”|
“I’m having a problem with this feature. Can you help?”
|Listen to their concerns|
Ask questions to better understand the problem
Collaborate on a solution
|Passive||Agreeable, but mask frustrations|
May not respond
|“OK, that will work.”|
“I don’t really need that feature anyway.”
|Encourage feedback to ensure satisfactory outcomes|
Offer reassurance and encourage them to share
|Aggressive||Cast blame and demand results|
Critical and intimidating
|“That won’t work. Do you even know what you’re doing?”|
“You’re wasting my time.”
Explain that they need to assist in their support
Make aggressive remarks
Cast doubt and make subtle threats
|“If it doesn’t work, I’ll probably need to find a different provider.”|
“Just forget it. I’ll find a workaround.”
|Rephrase the problem|
Request genuine feedback
Make them feel valued
Understanding Communication Styles to Deliver Better Customer Service
When customer service agents understand communication styles they can cater responses to each customer, ultimately providing better customer service. This customer-focused approach offers five valuable benefits.
1. Improve Customer Experience
The better an agent understands the problems the faster they can find a solution. However, different communication styles can become barriers to quick resolution times, especially if the agent does not recognize them or know how to respond.
One survey found that conflicting communication styles are the leading cause of breakdowns in communication in the workplace (Forbes). Communication breakdowns and miscommunications can lead to long wait times, inaccurate solutions, and frustrated customers. When agents cater to different communication styles, they can ask the right questions to understand a given problem, identify a solution, and deliver faster, better customer service.
2. Personalize the Experience
Everyone tailors their communication to different circles of people: colleagues, customers, friends, and family. It’s important to recognize that each person within a circle has their own communication style.
When agents understand customer communication styles, they can offer a personalized experience that addresses customer concerns and their emotions. Then, they can use empathy statements to show they care about their customers, which in turn leads to a personalized customer experience.
Though communication styles refer to how customers express themselves, it’s also crucial to recognize different communication channels. For example, The Economist reports that 31% of Millennials and 30% of Generation Xers have used social media to communicate with customers over the past year, compared to just 12% of Baby Boomers.
Correlations might or might not exist between how customers communicate and the communication tools they use. Either way, customer service teams should capture communications from their customers’ preferred channels to facilitate an effortless experience. It’s a major reason why many companies enable ticketing software to centralize support requests from multiple channels, reducing the need to monitor multiple channels, while providing the customer with the ability to communicate on their terms.
3. Defuse Tense Situations
Frustration can lead to anger, and anger can lead to aggression. Agents can leverage their understanding of communication styles to defuse tense situations. Rather than stoop to retaliation or defensive comments, customer service agents can acknowledge customer frustrations and recognize when to use empathy statements to de-escalate the situation, reduce stress and, guide customers to assist in the problem-solving process. That, in turn, fosters better customer service.
4. Increase Customer Satisfaction
Catering to different communication styles lends a personalized approach, improves resolution times, and mitigates aggressive behavior. Those traits collectively make customers happier.
Understanding communication styles helps agents make customers feel valued and important, ultimately increasing overall customer satisfaction.
5. Bolster Productivity and Profitability
Recognizing different styles of communication helps agents resolve problems faster and more efficiently. Agents can leverage their communication skills to calm and reassure customers, quickly identify the problem, and deliver a solution.
That cuts down on average ticket replies and average cost per ticket, two key customer service metrics. With fewer ticket replies, agents can serve more customers faster, bolstering productivity and profitability.
4 Types of Communication Styles
The better customer service teams understand the different types of communication styles, the better they can serve customers. Here are the four most common communication styles and tips for responding to each.
Assertive communicators are often considered the most pleasant to assist. They communicate clearly and to the point. They’re confident yet respectful of others’ opinions, and they do not resort to insults.
In addition, assertive communicators tend to be calm, encouraging feedback from agents, and they’re often willing to compromise. They understand their role and the role of their support agents, and they’re likely to work with agents toward a solution.
People who are assertive communicators will often be:
- Direct and to the point
- Confident yet respectful
- Calm and collaborative
Assertive Communication Examples
- “I understand what you’re saying. Let me give it a try.”
- I’m having a problem with this feature. Can you help me figure it out?”
- I like your idea, but I don’t think it will work for me. Here’s why…”
How to Communicate with Assertive Customers
Assertive customers are the easiest to support. Agents should listen to what they are saying and understand that they are being direct about their concerns. Assertive communicators are likely to consider the support process a partnership, so ask questions to understand the problem and work with them toward a resolution.
Passive communicators tend to seem agreeable, but that can mask underlying frustrations that manifest in other ways. They’re not assertive, leaving support requests ambiguous and difficult to resolve.
Worse, they might not respond to follow-up replies, then vent their frustrations later in online reviews or by switching to a competitor. The challenge for customer support agents is to help passive communicators, first, they must be able to get the customer to articulate their problems so that they can offer a solution. The second challenge arises when an agent is tasked with gathering genuine feedback on proposed solutions, rather than having the passive communicator simply accept recommendations that won’t work for them.
People that are passive communicators will frequently be:
- Agreeable, but mask frustrations.
- Not assertive.
- May not respond to follow-ups.
Passive Communication Examples
- “OK, that will work.”
- “I don’t really need that feature anyway.”
- “I can’t figure it out, but I’ll just wait to see if I actually need it.”
How to Communicate with Passive Customers
Agents might need to ask a series of pointed questions to get to the root of the problem. It’s important to encourage feedback to confirm passive customers are happy with the outcomes. Don’t rush passive communicators. Instead, reassure them that they’ve come to the right place and agents are here to help, not conflict with their goals. Encourage them to share all their concerns and use empathy statements to show that agents value them.
Aggressive communicators tend to cast blame and demand solutions without regard for others’ opinions or emotions. They might not listen to solutions, especially if they don’t trust support agents. Aggressive communicators can be critical, intimidating, or even insulting.
Aggressive communicators will often:
- Cast blame and demand results.
- Be distrustful.
- Be critical, intimidating, and insulting.
Aggressive Communication Examples
- “That won’t work. Do you even know what you’re doing?”
- “I’m going to check out your competitor to see if they can help me instead.”
- “You’re wasting my time. I want to speak to your supervisor.”
How to Communicate with Aggressive Customers
Stay calm and remember that this is how frustration manifests in these individuals in these types of situations. Work to defuse conflict and, if needed, explain that you are ready to help but need the customer to assist in identifying and resolving the problem.
Be confident, assertive, and professional. Even though aggressive communicators can seem hostile, they’re usually easy to satisfy with quick and accurate solutions. No matter what, do not retaliate. If an agent isn’t getting anywhere with an aggressive communicator, it can be a good idea to quickly escalate the issue to a manager as this will likely appeal to an aggressive communicator.
As the moniker suggests, passive-aggressive people outwardly communicate in a passive manner but load their comments with aggression in the form of sarcasm or underhanded remarks. They seem agreeable yet cast doubt on recommendations or subtly threaten negative consequences.
People that are passive-aggressive communicators will frequently be:
- Outwardly passive.
- Make sarcastic or underhanded remarks.
- Seem agreeable, but cast doubt or make subtle threats.
Passive-Aggressive Communication Examples
- “I’ll try that, but if it doesn’t work, I’m probably going to have to find a different provider.”
- “I guess I’ll do it your way.”
- “Just forget it. I’ll find a workaround.”
How to Communicate with Passive-Aggressive Customers
As with an aggressive communication style, it’s important to remain calm and defuse the situation. Seek to understand the reason for their frustrations. Don’t ignore their remarks, but don’t attack them, either.
It’s often helpful to rephrase the problem to make it clear that agents understand what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s also important to use empathy statements and ask for genuine feedback. If they feel agents care, they’re more likely to collaborate toward a solution.
Skillful communication is an essential asset for customer service teams. When agents understand different communication styles, organizations can benefit from improved customer service, personalization, defused conflicts, and increased customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.
Agents should familiarize themselves with the four types of communication styles, and also work to become skillful at dealing with each in a productive manner. By tailoring the approach based on the communication style of the customer conflicts will be avoided and it will be easier and quicker to identify the root cause and provide an accurate solution. When agents understand what customers are saying and how they are saying it, they can influence positive outcomes that benefit customers and their organizations.