Making the right impression: Who do your customers think you are?
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People working in customer services are realising that to open up new relationships with consumers, they need to find new channels to connect with them. But how do you know which is the right digital personality to adopt?

By Bill Murphy, BT Business

Communication channels such as email, mobile phone and SMS have been eagerly adopted to help build new relationships with customers. But as businesses embrace the latest tools, managers need to be aware of their impact on their business brand. How your business uses communications technology helps to create a virtual identity and this has an impact on how you are perceived by customers in a digital world.

From the customer's point of view, as businesses rush to adopt a multi-channel communications approach, one of the issues they face is the increase in the sheer volume of messages they receive each day. The emergence of micro-blogs and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook is further increasing this volume and, if not managed carefully, could frustrate customers.

"Almost a third of employees in the UK already say that they feel harassed by the number of messages they receive every day and a similar proportion of employees are unsure of the best way to contact people."

This presents a great opportunity for businesses to stand out by tuning their communications systems so they can better respond to the preferences of individuals. After, all, one size doesn’t fit all and just as our management style may be driven by our different personality types, so is our digital personality – the way we choose to use and consume different forms of communication.

Recent research from BT Business and psychologist Gladeana McMahon now suggests that understanding your customers as individuals is vital. The psychology of customers means that while some may respond positively to more attention from customer service departments, others may feel it is intrusive. And while some may prefer to contact you via phone, others may prefer to use email.

Almost a third of employees in the UK already say that they feel harassed by the number of messages they receive every day and a similar proportion of employees are unsure of the best way to contact people. It suggests companies are not providing enough information or training about managing communication channels and maximising new technologies that help to ensure that customers don't feel that they are being 'digitally stalked' by businesses simply making an effort to deliver great service.

Simplifying the job of reaching customers by using unified communication technologies could provide a huge advantage for those businesses that are prepared to adapt. Unifying communications, so that multiple channels such as email, mobile, SMS and even instant messenger are combined in a single 'virtual inbox', can help businesses match communications to the preferences and behaviour of individuals, while also improving their employee productivity.

The research also reveals that there is a real opportunity for businesses to deliver more flexible and tailored ways of keeping in touch with customers. Younger people in particular are beginning to use social media tools to reach customers, though it is not clear that companies are prepared for this change. For example, one in six employees under the age of 25 uses social networking tools such as Facebook to manage customer relationships, yet companies, as a rule, do not provide any advice to employees on using such channels. Under-25s were also six times more likely than over-44s to use wikis and Twitter to manage customer relationships.

Who do you think we are?

According to psychologist Gladeana McMahon, when we communicate with a customer across multiple communication channels, we build a complex digital persona in their mind. Getting this persona, or personal brand, right is vital and identifying our customers' own personalities can go some way to replacing the clues we receive from face-to-face communications through body language and facial expression.

Several character traits were identified in the research and McMahon linked these personality types to the communications tools in use by companies in their communication with customers. She suggests people with an 'open' digital personality are more likely to use communication channels such as social networking sites, while those who are 'conscientious' are likely to prefer email, as they can be drafted and checked before sending.

Those classed as 'agreeable' may have difficulty with prioritising and are likely to want to respond to every message that arrives – a problem as the volume of such messages increases. Meanwhile, 'neurotic' personalities may have a tendency to misinterpret digital communications and respond in a negative way, which could be a problem for people in customer-facing roles.

It seems that for all the growth in technology, the old customer service advice is still just as relevant today: customers are people first and foremost and we need to understand them before engaging them in conversation - even if this is virtual.

Personality types and preferences


  • Most likely to embrace new technologies and believe it's a good way to interact with customers and partners.
  • Flexible and happy to engage with people over multiple communication channels.
  • Most likely to use social networking to manage business relationships and allow people uncensored access to online profiles.


  • Unlikely to try out new technology until the benefits are demonstrated.


  • May not be comfortable with the speed of communication and the immediacy of new technologies.
  • Prefer sending emails that can be drafted and checked before being sent to technologies that enable people to be more impulsive such as micro blogging through Twitter.



  • Will embrace new technologies and the multiple methods of contacting people, often with little or no thoughts of the consequences.


  • Most likely to be a regular micro-blogger through Twitter or user of Facebook.



  • Will use new technologies as they appreciate the benefits that they could bring, but may not maximise the potential as they worry about pestering or disturbing people.
  • May find other people’s communications concerning, trying to respond to every message believing it to be important, finding filtering and prioritising difficult.


  • Cynical about new technologies and tend to reject them.
  • Unlikely to be comfortable with applying social networking to business relationships.


  • Have a tendency to misinterpret digital communications.

Bill Murphy is managing director of BT Business


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