scorecardEvery time you dial into these call centers, your personality is being silently assessed
  1. Home
  2. Science
  3. Every time you dial into these call centers, your personality is being silently assessed

Every time you dial into these call centers, your personality is being silently assessed

Every time you dial into these call centers, your personality is being silently assessed
LifeScience6 min read

customer service phone call


Mattersight combines personality science and automation to make customer service more efficient.

"Your call may be recorded for quality assurance."

You've likely heard this phrase so often while waiting for a customer service agent to surface and resolve an issue with your Wi-Fi or your bank account that it's been rendered virtually meaningless.

And yet when it comes to the process by which call centers assure their agents are providing high-quality service to every customer, a major shift is underway.

A key player in that shift is Mattersight, a company that's harnessing the science of personality to help call centers improve their performance by delivering individualized service to every single caller.

How Mattersight operates

Mattersight - whose clients include Hilton Hotels, Wells Fargo, United Health Group, Progressive Insurance, and CVS - offers several products, perhaps the eeriest of which is "routing."

When you dial into a call center that uses this product, you're automatically transferred to an agent who can best satisfy your needs based on their past performance and personal strengths.

As soon as you start speaking, your tone, tempo, keywords, grammar, and syntax are all fed into an algorithm that determines which agent would be best suited to handle your issue.

Someone who calls up hysterical, wanting to know why his reservation for tomorrow's hotel stay has been canceled, would likely be transferred to a different agent than someone who casually asks whether all hotels provide complimentary snacks.

Another product is performance coaching. Mattersight trains managers at different call centers, who in turn train their employees, to pick up on clues to a customer's personality and tailor the conversation to suit that customer's particular communication style.

If you call up and say something like, "I just want to clarify" or "I'd like you to help me understand," you'll be treated differently than someone who calls up and says, "I've got a problem - you need to fix it." It's not just a matter of who's more polite - it's a question of how people articulate their needs and prefer to receive information.

The science behind the products

All Mattersight products are based on a theory of personality called the Process Communication Model. The model was developed by Taibi Kahler, Ph.D., and has been used for decades to select astronauts at NASA.

According to the PCM, everyone has six personality types within them: thoughts, emotions, opinions, reactions, actions, and reflections.

  • "Thoughts" people are logical and organized; they're looking for efficient and accurate service.
  • "Emotions" people are looking for a personal connection.
  • "Opinions" people seek respect and recognition for their loyalty to the company.
  • "Reactions" people are creative and want the service to be an easy process.
  • "Actions" people like to bend the rules and want to know what you will do for them.
  • "Reflections" people seek solitude and prefer impersonal service.

(Mattersight invited me to take the Personality Pattern Inventory, an online assessment based on the PCM, and I discovered that my dominant personality style is "thoughts." As it turns out, thoughts and emotions are the two most popular personality styles in the US.)

What differentiates the PCM from other personality models is the idea that, even though you've got a dominant style, you're also able to access all the personality types depending on the situation and the people you're interacting with.

six people

Flickr/Sascha Kohlmann

The Process Communication Model is based on the idea that everyone has six personality types within them.

Why the science works

Mattersight feels that, by combining personality science with automation, it's revolutionizing customer service.

Mattersight's Chief Marketing Officer Jason Wesbecher told Business Insider that for years calls were indeed recorded, but only about 1% were actually listened to and analyzed. Mattersight's goal is to look at that other 99%. In the past 10 years, Wesbecher said the company has listened to about one billion phone calls.

"We've built 10 million behavioral algorithms and language libraries that are firing on a second-by-second basis to identify all of these previously abstract attributes that we can now quantify and put into a spreadsheet," Wesbecher said.

Those attributes include your personality style, whether you're upset, whether the agent shows empathy, and how much effort the exchange takes.

"It's a big data science approach to every second of every customer service phone call," Wesbecher said.

When customers reach out to call centers, they're frequently in distress - maybe their credit card's just been stolen or they've got a $10,000 medical bill that their insurance apparently isn't covering.

The PCM posits that everyone acts differently when they're in distress, based on their dominant personality type. Call centers that use Mattersight's products presumably provide better service because they connect callers with agents who know exactly how to handle their particular distress style.

boss meeting


All employees receive coaching on how to interact with other types of personalities.

All agents, supervisors, and managers at call centers that use Mattersight products are required to complete the PPI. (As of now, the assessment is only available to corporate clients, so individuals can't find the test online.)

"They get a much deeper understanding of who they are, how they're hardwired, what their core personality style is, and what kind of access they have to the other personality styles," said Melissa Moore, Mattersight's chief people officer. "They really begin to understand how they communicate to others, and they learn which personality styles take a little more energy."

At call centers that don't use routing, the assessments supplement coaching and training agents on how to interact with people with different personality styles. Mattersight will listen to recorded calls (a typical agent takes about 80 calls a day) and look for patterns.

Moore gave me an example of how this process might work. "I might identify that your 'reactions' calls take longer, there's more distress on them, and afterward I notice that you're a little more tired, you don't have as much energy for that next call. We might look and say, 'Well, that's because 'reactions' are more difficult for you to access on a regular basis. It takes more energy.'"

Coaching would focus on getting better at interacting with "reaction" people. "It's about up-skilling," Moore said, "and it's about giving people more skills to interact with a wider variety of customers."

It's that idea that you can tap into different personality styles that are latent within you in order to better communicate with others.

The outcome

The result of Mattersight's intervention is typically twofold: Customers are happier because their needs get satisfied more efficiently, and agents are happier because their calls go much more smoothly. Both employee and customer satisfaction increases.

Mattersight declined to give specifics on how individual companies' performance had improved. Wesbecher said a large technology company implemented the routing product and within the first 90 days of using it saw a 23% improvement in call efficiencies. Meanwhile, the number of people who said they were unlikely to recommend the service to someone else decreased by 20%.

Said Wesbecher, "It's phenomenal and also pretty fascinating that it was a personality connection that drove those results."

NOW WATCH: Here's what your handwriting reveals about your personality