Understanding the service sales psychology

The key to winning customers and increasing revenue may be the same techniques you use at parties to win friends: rapport.To grow any business, you need to strengthen customer relationships and build strategic partnerships. If you can do both, you’ll create customer satisfaction, loyalty and referrals. The challenge is figuring out how to most effectively accomplish these tasks.One technique that can work very effectively is Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP.NLP is a behavioral technology created in the 1970s by Richard Brandler, a student of mathematics and Gestalt therapy, and John Grinder, a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Santa Cruz.The core of NLP is building rapport — a skill crucial to customer service and sales professionals. When you have rapport, you offer commonality, which comforts people because they feel understood.Traditionally, customer service representatives built rapport by looking for such common interests as hobbies, geographic location or family interests. They wanted the customer to realize that they have something in common with their representative, but some customers don’t want to talk about their personal interests. When using NLP, the rapport is unconscious, immediate and more effective.Building rapport

Service reps and salespeople who have rapport with prospects express a genuine interest in their customers’ goals. To establish rapport, they must share comfort with the other person on three levels: physical (body language, voice and language patterns), mental (shared interests and understanding of the business situation) and emotional (beliefs, values and goals).When the rep and customer connect at these levels, they are “matched,” a term used to define the moment rapport is achieved. For phone-based reps, voice is the key to making those connections. The rep needs to match their volume, pace, pitch and intonation with the customers’. That way, callers feel their emotional state has been understood and validated.Reps usually are taught that if they stay calm during emotional situations, customers will feel respected. According to NLP techniques, remaining calm makes the customer think their emotional state has not been understood. When reps match a customer’s emotional intensity, specifically through voice tone, the caller feels validated and a potential crisis is de-escalated.At the same time, reps must be careful not to talk louder or faster than the customer. If they do, the caller may feel challenged. Matching the sound of the customer’s voice does not mean matching their emotional state. If a customer is angry, the intent isn’t to be angry in return, but rather to speak as loudly and fast as they do.Reps can test whether rapport has been established by adjusting voice tone, a technique known as pacing and leading. If there’s rapport, and customers are comfortable, they will adjust their own tone accordingly, an unconscious and hard-wired physiological response.Pacing and leading techniques also can affect such physiological responses as breathing patterns. This is helpful when you need to slow a person down to assess what he or she is trying to tell you, or if you need a fast resolution.

Body language

In face-to-face communications, a combination of voice tone and body language (body positioning, eye contact and gestures) affect rapport.During live interactions, approximately 55 percent of information is gathered from the other person’s body language. If there is incongruence – when someone’s body language is inconsistent with his or her words (e.g., appears angry yet says they’re fine) – people usually interpret the true meaning from body language.When two people are comfortable with each other, their body language often is similar. They will pace and lead each other. When one person leans back, the other will follow. Pacing customers’ body language during live interactions (in addition to matching and voice tone) quickly establishes rapport.A mismatch that threatens rapport will occur if a customer is relaxed, leaning back in his or her chair, while the salesperson is rigid and leaning forward. Start with the basics: sitting vs. standing, leaning forward vs. leaning back. You are doing it unconsciously with the people with whom you are already comfortable.

The senses

Think about your language. We experience life through our senses, and some people have sensory preferences, utilizing some senses more heavily than others.The primary sensory preferences are visual, auditory and kinesthetic (touch). Most people favor their sense of vision and use visual words to describe experiences: something is “not clear” or they “don’t see” your perspective. A person with an auditory sensory preference might say, “That sounds good,” while a person with a kinesthetic preference would say, “This doesn’t feel right” or “I don’t have a grasp on that
yet.”Most people choose language carefully, using specific words to describe their perceptions. When customers use a word or phrase, they have pictures, sounds and feelings tied to it. Repeating the word reiterates your understanding of their experience.It is critical to ask questions and genuinely try to understand the customer’s point of view, and rapport is a great entry point to reach your business goals.Dianne Durkin, founder and president of Loyalty Factor LLC, can be reached at dmdurkin@loyaltyfactor.com. Jeff Carlson, who specializes in psychology, organizational development and recruitment
consulting, can be reached at jcarlson@loyaltyfactor.com.