The surprising impact of language on the customer experience

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

“Do or do not. There is no try.” ~Yoda

Two people.

Two ways of providing the same answer.

In the examples below, what do you think the impact of answer A vs B was on the customer’s perception of effort and satisfaction?

Example 1

  • Answer A: You can’t transfer funds until you go through these steps to authorize the account
  • Answer B: Let me walk you through these steps to authorize the account

Example 2

  • Answer A: You’re best off bringing it into a repair shop.
  • Answer B: I’ll pass your feedback to the engineering department, check the database to see if a simple fix is possible, and recommend you bring the bicycle to the shop.

In Answer A, the service rep reinforces what can’t be done and uses negative words like can’t, won’t, don’t, unable to, which:

  • communicates uncertainty or lack of commitment with words like try, maybe, perhaps
  • has a subtle tone of blame that makes people defensive with words like should, must, need to
  • emphasizes negative consequences
  • doesn’t include alternatives or positive actions
  • is stiff and business like

As a result, people:

  • feel bad
  • become defensive, hurt or upset
  • stop listening
  • argue or escalate conflict
  • feel misunderstood, demeaned or condescended to
  • avoid providing information

In Answer B, the service rep uses positive language, which:

  • says what can be done with words like can, will, do, able to
  • communicates certainty with words like do, definitely, will
  • avoids blame, using questions to further understanding
  • highlights positive consequences
  • suggests alternatives and positive actions
  • is helpful and encouraging

As a result, people:

  • feel good
  • are more cooperative
  • are more likely to listen
  • take more accountability
  • feel respected
  • are more forthcoming, open and sincere

How you talk (face-to-face, on the phone, in email, in forums, on the web) has a huge impact on how customers perceive you. Think of your words, and the way you say them, as experience cues. Experience cues trigger specific emotional responses and reactions in people. The experience cues provided by positive language make what you’re communicating easier to remember, easier to understand, and easier to act on. And those same cues leave your customers thinking that the service you provided them was of higher quality, took less effort, and was more satisfying than a similar experience with different cues.

Every employee can have a surprisingly large impact on customer loyalty simply by replacing negative language with positive language – tapping into the power of positive experience cues:

  • Saying what something is, rather than what something isn’t.
  • Telling people what they can do, rather than what they can’t do.
  • Using love words, rather than the cool, removed, formal words that characterize typical business language (more on love words in another post).

Here’s the difference positive language made in perception of quality and effort (from How Call Centers Use Behavioral Economics to Sway Customers).

Example 1, Answer B: Let me walk you through these steps to authorize the account.  82% higher quality, 73% lower effort

Example 2, Answer B: I’ll pass your feedback to the engineering department, check the database to see if a simple fix is possible, and recommend you bring the bicycle to the shop. 67% higher quality, 77% lower customer effort

What negative words or phrases have you noticed yourself using? Here are a few I’ve caught myself using regularly:

  • Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions >> replacing with please email me if you have any questions)
  • No problem >> replacing with my pleasure)
  • It was nothing >> replacing with thank you)
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