Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

I can't remember how old I was when I first realized that all people just weren't the same. Oh, I knew boys and girls were different. What I mean is I didn't realize there were different types of personalities.

The revelation might have come in third grade, now that I think about it. There was this one kid who, after weeks of waving his arm frantically to get the teacher to call on him, didn't know the answer and likely never had.

He was a bluffer. We all knew them. Also ones who were dominant, encouragers, shy and docile. There were the smart ones who were mocked and bullied along with the ones who were learning challenged.

Those differences fit into loose categories.

Over the years, my wife, Sherrie, and I have conducted training seminars on a broad range of topics all over the U.S. for various consortia and travel agent associations as well as for Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld conferences.

We were Power Speakers at the Travel Leaders Network conference in Orlando earlier this month in a session that dealt with client retention and getting to know those clients better. While doing research for the presentation, Sherrie identified a number of behavioral types, and I thought it would be fun and informative to share them with you.

I do so because I'm certain at least a few of you will get a chuckle as you think back to those clients who fit the descriptions. I'll also share handy tips on how we have come to deal with them effectively.

• The complainer: We've all dealt with them. They're negative about everything, seem to have a lot they are unhappy about and they're going to be sure you hear about all of it. You don't want them in your office because of the negative effect on those who might overhear them. They're never going to admit blame or responsibility for anything that has happened.

Look beyond the frustrated complaints for the underlying cause and deal with it. Pay close attention to what is being said. Repeat what you think they're saying to make sure there is no misunderstanding. Take notes. The client/prospect will be more easily dealt with if they believe you are investing in their situation.

• The overly agreeable: They're always positive. They're polite to a fault and do all they can to avoid conflict. They'll also take the blame for something they didn't do. Almost maddeningly, it is extremely difficult to get to the root of what they want when they come to us with a problem or an issue.

We have to be their advocates. It is often necessary to ask probing questions when the client is yessing us to death and may even seem to be unwilling to help themselves.

• The expert: I'll bet you dealt with one in the last week. In a group of 21 or more clients, there is at least one who not only can find a lower price but knows more about the entire experience than you do and won't hesitate to tell that to everyone they meet. Compounding the problem is that they are generally quite intelligent and love to do research on their way to being the know-it-all who will make your life miserable. Plan on condescension in the way they explain to others how they know more than you do.

Let them tell you all about your business. Ask lots of questions about all the things they "know," because often times they are wrong, and you will benefit from having that tidbit or three. Use clarifying statements ("I think you're saying that ...") for the same reason. In doing so, you'll likely gain insight into how to deal with them if they become a problem.

Here's the hardest part: Don't take what they say personally. Becoming emotionally involved in such a situation means you've lost. Boxers work hard to taunt opponents to make them angry because then the battle plan is abandoned. A rural saying cautions against mud wrestling with pigs: because both of you will get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

• The pessimist:
These folks are negative about everything. They can be very hard to please and are often incorrectly opinionated based on information gleaned from sources like their brother's ex-wife, who once worked with a woman who had a friend from grammar school who told her that ... . They tend to be intelligent, but despite that they're certain there is a dark side to every solution you offer and reject it. Expect him or her to nitpick anything you propose.

Stay ultrapositive. It is all too easy to get caught up in the negativity, so you have to stay focused. Lead them to the bright side of the conversation. It's a challenge, but bring your skills into play.  

• The staller: These people tend to be pleasers and, at the same time, maddeningly indecisive. They tend to be hesitant and cautious out of concern that if they commit to something they could well find something better as soon as they leave your office. They can be a major toughie because they have the fear of missing out.

Drill down into their needs to find real solutions. Be sure they have all the facts they need to present your recommendations to friends and family. Don't be pushy with this client.

• The decision maker: These are the first people who must be identified in any consultation. They are characterized by being rational, comprehensive in their thinking and planning and exceedingly inquisitive. They tend to be economical and protective of those for whom they will make a decision. They are the ones who will ultimately sign off on the vacation.

You should be careful in all you say and do, because a misstep will doom even your best work.

• The influencer: This is not the decision maker but someone who has the ear of the decision maker and might be part of the decision-making process. They are trustworthy, knowledgeable, communicative and genuinely desire to help. They have great persuasive powers, and when they talk, people listen.

The influencer is a good ally to have and one who must never be misled.

• The coach: This person knows all the players and will enable them in making the vacation decision. These types are attentive and well organized. As your ally, they can help create the strategy with the decision maker. While they are not actively selling for you, they can advise the best approach to use with the people involved.

Expect them to point you in the right direction and to be your adviser.

• The antagonist: This is the person who is looking for a reason not to book with you. For those who remember the 1950s television series "Leave It To Beaver," this character type is Eddie Haskell, the kid who was a notorious sneak. These types will work behind your back to influence the decision maker. They have a personal favorite, and here's a clue: It isn't you. They are resistant to change, typically really smart and have some secret information they believe you don't have and are unable to get.

Look for ways to build a bridge with this type of person. Take advantage of an inherent character flaw: They have the fear of a better option. Be the one who finds the best option.

• The evangelist: Find a way to clone these types: mainstream consumers who are passionate about things they champion. They will speak highly of you, recommend you often and have your back if there is a problem. They trust you to find them the best value (not necessarily the cheapest price). They will forgive you for mistakes within limits. Never stop listening to these hyper-repeat clients.

These are a few of the client types we've encountered. Are there others? Feel free to share your thoughts on types, how to recognize them and what to do with the information once known. Send your thoughts on the subject to [email protected].

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