Is There a Place for Psychology in Sales and Customer Service?

Psychology as a subject is now over 100 years old and has become one of the most popular courses to be undertaken at college. But perhaps a far greater influence has been not so much in academic circles but in the world of business, where the application of many psychological theories is used almost routinely in areas such as hiring, development, coaching, communication and career transition, just to name a few. But in this brief article, we want to look at the role of psychological theory in the function of sales or customer service, where the dynamic between the customer and the employee is most of interest.Although there are many psychological theories that are often used in sales, in this article we will look at two of the most popularly used ones. These are the “DISC” model, originally developed based on French psychological research but developed by American William Marston and “Transactional Analysis” or the “TA model” as it is called for short, developed by the Canadian psychologist, Dr. Eric Berne. Let’s look at these psychologies very briefly in turn and comment on how they are used.The DISC Model The DISC assessment is a relatively simple behaviorally based tool that centers on four different behavioral traits, which today are called: dominance (D), influence (I), steadiness (S), and compliance (C). The diagram below describes each of these traits:In this model, all individuals have a dominant (say high “I” for example) and sometimes secondary style (High “D” and high “S” for example) which is used most or much more than the others and, as a result, we can determine how a person might approach a sales or customer service conversation and have particular expectations in terms of how the conversation should best proceed, both in terms of the salesperson/customer service representative and the customer. The idea here is that we can flex our selling or service “style” to better suit the needs of the customer – this might be to be more task focused if they are a high “D” for example, more relationship centered if they are a high “I” etc. These preferences are quite quickly identified if a customer has taken a questionnaire, but in the absence of this, a sales person has to guess what might be most applicable.  The danger here is therefore to get this style appraisal wrong and to use the wrong approach. Great care is therefore needed and the approach may work better for a second or third encounter with a customer and not a first, when you just don’t know enough. TA Model Transactional analysis is a psychoanalytic system in which social transactions are analyzed to determine the so-called “ego state” of the person (whether parent-like, childlike, or adult-like) as a basis for understanding their behavior. According to Berne we all have every one of these so-called “states” but one will be more dominant and will be evidenced in the language people use. Parent state people use language such as “should and “ought”, adult state people use language such as “please explain” and “tell me more” and child state people use language such as “why should I?” or “I need this now”. The diagram below briefly describes each of the three states.In Berne’s system the salesperson or customer service manager or representative should mainly be in Adult mode or state, even though the responses from a customer may come in non-adult states – such as Parent or Child states.Unlike DISC, Transactional analysis states can be more quickly determined from words that are quickly used in a conversation (and even a first one). As a result, a salesperson or customer service representative can fairly quickly guess which state may be strongest, at least in that moment. This allows for quick accommodations in style to counter the parental and child states in particular to get back to an “Adult state” exchange as rapidly as possible.Summary Both DISC and TA or commonly deployed and powerful tools to help in sales and customer relationship exchanges. However, they are designed to be used through the use of questionnaires or interviews over longer periods of time than these kinds of short commercial transactions often allow. As a result, as much as they can offer “hunches” about where a customer may be coming from or a given “style” he or she may prefer they may not be entirely accurate. Great care needs to therefore be taken to first fully understand the tool being used and secondly to test any hypothesis that may be drawn from using them as carefully as possible.

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