Conscientious personality linked to good customer service

A new US study finds that not only is technical knowledge important for good performance in customer service, but also having a conscientious personality to go with it.

Researchers from Rice University carried out their study, titled Relations between personality, knowledge, and behavior in professional service encounters, and looked at the link between personality and effective customer service behaviour and found people whose personality tests identified them as highly conscientious were more likely to understand the need for and use effective interpersonal behaviors in interactions with customers.

Lead author Stephan Motowidlo, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Psychology at Rice, says while it is important for people in customer-facing jobs to have a good technical grasp of the service offering, this is only part of what makes for good performance in customer service.

He explains:

“Performance in a professional service capacity is not just knowing about what the product is and how it works, but how to sell and talk about it.”

Organizations are usually very good at assessing candidates’ ability to deliver service by testing their IQ – this is a measure of how well they can absorb the technical knowledge.

Customer service and “soft” skills

But Motowidlo says they are becoming increasingly interested in the impact of “soft” skills, or the “interpersonal” side of a person’s performance in customer service:

“Much like intelligence impacts knowledge acquisition – driving what you learn and how much you know – personality traits impact how interpersonal skills are learned and used.”

He says those who know that skills like listening, engaging warmly, and addressing questions effectively, are important in customer interactions, tend to handle them more effectively, and this is shaped by their underlying personality traits.

For the study the team invited two groups of participants to complete a questionnaire that asked them to consider 50 customer service encounters and rank each as effective or ineffective.

The first group comprised 99 psychology undergraduates at a small private university, and the second group comprised around 80 employees at a community service volunteer agency.

In both cases, as well as completing the tests to assess their knowledge about customer service encounters, the participants completed personality tests and the researchers also assessed job performance in the group that worked at the volunteer agency.

The results show that participants who accurately assessed the effectiveness of the various customer-service encounters behaved more effectively and displayed higher levels of conscientiousness.

Prof. Motowidlo says he hopes their findings will spur further research into the influence of people’s personality on their absorption of the knowledge they need to do a good job.