By Kathryn Berg
The Village Business Institute
Everyone has their own conceptions and misconceptions of introverts. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy, although the two traits do often come as a package deal. At their simplest level, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is the way you feel after having been around people. Are you drained, or are you energized? Those of us who are drained and need to spend some alone time to recharge are introverts. The individuals who draw their energy from other people are extroverts.
As a faithful introvert, one thing I’ve found that I struggle with is customer service. No matter where the service provider, herself, falls on the introvert-extrovert scale, typically, her style of service is geared toward the extroverted customer. They ask a lot of questions, laugh a lot, and strike up superficial conversations to, hopefully, connect with her customer and close a sale or earn a better tip.
Generally, introverts are not interested in this kind of behavior. It’s draining to take part in these high-energy interactions. And, when they aren’t necessarily meaningful ones, they seem frustrating and wasteful to someone with a limited supply of energy to put toward outside interaction. So, from a customer service standpoint, how do you build a relationship with an introvert who, for the most part, just wants to be left alone?
Recognize the difference. Your first job as a customer service provider is to understand your customer, but without a close or long-term relationship, introversion may be difficult to spot. Some identifiers may include bringing a book or headphones if he is alone, or letting others order or speak first if he is in a group. Introverts tend not to initiate conversations or participate in small talk, whether in person, over the phone, or in emails. If they have a choice, they will usually receive more calls, texts, or emails than they send. Being alone in a public place is, of course, a great indicator that a person is an introvert as well.
Keep your distance. Once you’ve taken the time to understand the difference between introverts and extroverts, a change in your behavior should follow. Though customer service usually means just that—serving the customer—serving an introvert should be a bit different. Try to suppress your initial desire to check in on the introvert often, and when you do, try not to speak too loudly, and keep your conversation brief. A colleague taught me the Platinum Rule: treat others the way they want to be treated. This behavior goes much further than the Golden Rule because you’re taking the time to understand the other person rather than projecting your own wishes upon her.
One of my most horrifying customer service experiences took place in a restaurant when my server spent my entire meal dropping by my table to chat because, I presume, she felt bad that I was there alone. She later yelled to the food runner that my plate was meant for “that lady over there, who is all by herself!” I am not embarrassed to eat on my own, but I nearly imploded as the entire restaurant turned my way following this loud declaration of my aloneness. A better option, based on the platinum rule, would have been for the food runner or server to drop off my food in a way that was unobtrusive to me or the other customers around me.
Make it meaningful. Interestingly enough, my best customer service experience lately was also in a restaurant. The difference between the meal I previously described and the one at the Duluth Grill in Duluth, MN, comes down to my excellent server and the way she made my time at the restaurant memorable in a positive way. While this server did spend time talking with me throughout the meal, she made note that I was not comfortable with small talk. Instead, she noticed when I showed interest in the Duluth Grill’s story, including its on-site garden and the rooftop beehive they used to have. She took the time to realize that I am interested in local businesses and created a meaningful interaction based on that interest. She even went so far as to let me keep my coffee mug after having told me about the local artist who created them for the restaurant.
As with any conversation, the interaction with my waitress in Duluth left me wanting some alone time to recharge. But in this instance, I was happy to do so after having a conversation that I could talk (and write) about later, rather than the lowest-common-denominator conversations we are all used to having and forgetting as soon as we exit a shop or restaurant. Now, to quote my server, I “have a fun story to tell when people see [my] mug,” and I am happy to tell it because it means something to me.
Good customer service comes down to providing the service that the customer needs, but great customer service goes beyond that to understand the customer as a person, instead of just a patron of your establishment. Taking the time to get to know and recognize your customers’ personalities will require more effort, but the relationships you create will be worth the work.
About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.