Customer Experience News & Trends

The best – and worst – words to use with customers

Don’t say another word to customers until you read this: Researchers have found the best – and worst – language to use with customers. 

Turns out, some of the phrases you thought were vital to the customer experience can be overkill. On the other hand, customers love to hear some of the words you love to say.

“It is now clear … that some of the time-honored truths of customer service interactions fail to hold up to scientific scrutiny,” say researchers Sarah Moore, Brent McFerran and Grant Packard, whose study appeared in the Harvard Business Review. “And not every piece of communication needs to be perfect; sometimes, a few mistakes produces a better result than flawlessness.”

Say more, say less

Here’s what to say – and what to steer clear of:

Give them the “I.” Until now, you might have thought it’s best to refer to yourself as part of a team designed to help customers. So you say things such as, “We can help with that,” or “We’ll get right on it.” But researchers found that customers felt the employees who use “I,” “me” and “my” most were working in their best interest. One company found that they could increase sales by 7% by switching from “we” to “I” in their email interactions.

Use customers’ words. Customers trust and like people who mimic their language more than those who don’t. We’re talking about exact words, too. For instance, if a customer asks, “Will my shoes get here by Friday?” front-line employees want to say, “Yes, your shoes will be there by Friday,” rather than, “Yes, it’ll be delivered tomorrow.” Oh-so-slight difference, but using the exact words creates an affiliation that customers like.

Connect early. Researchers confirmed something you likely already practice: It’s important to relate – and use relationship-building words – early in interactions. Demonstrate concern and empathy with words such as “please,” “sorry” and “thank you.” Signal agreement, listening and understanding with words such as “yes,” “OK” and “uh-huh.” But there’s one surprising part to the research: Don’t overdo it with the caring, empathetic words. Eventually customers want results, not just empathy.

Get active. Customers want employees to “take charge” in the conversation, and active words help them recognize that it’s happening. Researchers say employees want to shift from “connection words” to “solving verbs” such as, “get,” “call,” “do,” “resolve,” “allow” and “put.” These kinds of words increase customer satisfaction.

Be specific. Customers find employees who use concrete, specific language more helpful than those who use generic language. Concrete language suggests you are keyed in on customers’ personal needs. For instance, retail employees would want to say, “blue long sleeve, crew neck” over “shirt.”

Get to the point. Don’t be afraid to tell customers what they should do. Researchers found that people are more persuasive when they use words that flat-out endorse something: “I suggest you try the B Model” or “I recommend this line of whiteners.” They aren’t as persuasive using personal language, such as “I like that style” or “I prefer that line.” Explicit suggestions signal confidence and expertise that impress customers.

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