A highlight from How Language Boosts Customer Satisfaction
How concrete language shapes customer satisfaction was published earlier this year in the journal of consumer research jonet. Thanks for joining me. It's really great to speak with you again. Thanks so much for having me back. Let's talk about this study. Your co author was grant packard. Who's a marketing professor at york university. Toronto and together the two of you analyze more than a thousand customer service interactions. That were either recorded phone calls or written correspondence. What were you to looking for. And what did you find. This paper actually started with a little bit of a story. So i was a a number of years ago. I was on my way to an airport to catch a flight. And right on the way there i get this text message that every traveler dread saying flight has been cancelled and then two minutes later. I get this note saying. Hey but we re booked you on indirect flight tomorrow fifteen hours later with an extra stop along the way and i was like oh man i really needed to get on this flight and needed to get home and so i call customer service and i asked for help and we've all had an experience like this weather with an airline with somebody else and so i call them and the interaction just does not go well I asked for help. They're not very helpful. They're sort of following feeling like a sheet of normal questions. And i'm really really frustrated and i get off this call and the flight questions not solved and i'm sort of fuming and the the driver very nicely the uber driver says oh you know you sound like you're upset and i said yeah you know. I just called customer service. I'm pissed it's got to be so difficult to customer service agent. You know you get yelled at all day by people that are upset. I must be tough job and he goes. Actually you know. My daughter is a customer service agent and she was so good at it that they promoted her to helping other people be better. And i sat and i said wow be better i mean you know beyond like giving me a free credit or something. How can you be better. And i started to wonder. What might you be able to do. Besides giving people stuff what might you be able to do to be better. And so Grant i've worked on a number of papers together. He's an expert on language. I've done a bunch of work. Recently on natural language processing we wondered very simply as be on what these agents give customers could the language they use the words and other papers. We've done sort of para language but the way they talk the way they communicate make. Those interactions better. And so that's really the broad question that we we started with could could simply the words may customers for satisfy and did you find that that was the case but we first of all we did. So we we didn't know what we were looking for when we started but we started analyzing the language and we found something surprising that we didn't think about an advanced but ended up being true across number of data sets. Which is that a certain type of language. Improves customer satisfaction. And it doesn't. It doesn't just make people happier. That's good right. Customer satisfied but even caused them to be more likely to come back and buy more in the future and this linguistic features called concreteness basically how concrete The languages that people use. Sometimes we speak in a more abstract way and some times we speak in a more concrete way and we found speaking more concretely. Using more concrete languages in a variety of types of customer service or sales interactions cannot only make the customer satisfied but make them more likely to buy the future. Well let's let's talk about what concrete language is. Can you give us some examples. Yeah what i love about. Studying concrete languages it's not very concrete to begin right so the the idea of something being concrete as you can see it touch it or feel it you can experience it right when i talk about being in a car on the way to the airport. You can picture that in your mind. You can see a person in the backseat of a car. Being on the phone. Sort sorta yelling at the customer service representative. You get a sense of what that might look like when i talk about concrete language. That's a pretty abstract thing and the same thing goes for customer service calls right or sales. Interactions customer service. Asian could say you know you ask them for help in in a store and they say hey. I'll go look for that. I'll go look for that top. I'll go look for that. T shirt and grey someone responding to inquiry about delivery package arrive The customer service saito. It arrive there soon. They'll say could arrive at your place Arrive at your door. In all cases things like door for example things like that t shirt and grey. We have a sense of what that t shirt and grey looks like. When you say the word that. I don't have a picture in my mind what that is. I don't have a picture in my mind arriving there. i can imagine my doorstep. I have a sense of what that looks like. Even words like refund versus money. I have a sense of what money is refunded is a bit more abstract and so in all these cases the latter versions are more concrete. It's either a physical object. It's something people can see. Experience touch. have a sense of can imagine in their mind and that concreteness increases customer satisfaction. So it's this idea of precision and exactness so i in journalism we call it a show them. Don't tell them yes ideas that you create this visual in their mind and that has the effect of making people feel like. Oh this person's really listening to me. They're paying attention to my needs. Yeah and this was actually a sort of a side benefit of working with this project which is obviously many organizations cares about customer service right trillions of dollars spent a customer service jones ouston on sales and all these things so it's clearly relevant organizations but whether organizations are individuals. We also have an intermediary goal. Which is we wanna. We wanna make people feel like. We heard that right whether we're trying to sell something we're talking to our spouse. You know people like being listened to. They like feeling like others hurt them. How can we communicate that. We heard what others are saying. And that's actually the reason why. Concrete language is is more beneficial and so good way to think about is the following if you're a customer service agent. It's really easy to say. I'll help you with that. Every time someone calls whether they need help with a flight like i had a bag issue whether they're calling about needing a t shirt or pants or shoes i help with. That is sort of the swiss army knife of answers. It works with everything and so in that sense.