The Secret to Superior Customer Service? Be Concrete.
Imagine shopping for a shirt in a store. A salesperson that stops by may refer to that object concretely (e.g., “shirt” or “blouse”), abstractly (e.g., “that”) or somewhere in between (e.g., “item”, “top”, or “clothing”). While these may seem like trivial variations, new studies published in the February 2021 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research explore how a subtle aspect of how people talk – known as linguistic concreteness – can have an important impact on customer’s attitudes, purchase intentions, and even their actual purchases.
Schulich marketing professor Grant Packard and Jonah Berger from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania predict these subtle differences could translate into increased sales and improved customer satisfaction.
“We thought that by actually saying the specific things the customer is interested in, or by making your own actions more tangible and ‘real’, employees might signal they’re paying attention or actually doing something for that customer,” explains Packard.
Packard and Berger first analyzed the content of over 1,000 real customer service interactions from two different companies, one based in the U.S. and the other in Canada. Results indicated a significant increase in satisfaction and actual purchases when agents used more concrete words, even after controlling for a large number of alternative explanations. Experiments revealed that concreteness works because it signals the agent is paying attention to the customer.
“The fact that concrete language suggests to others that you’re listening makes sense,” says Packard. “If you’re not paying attention to someone, you can’t really reference the things they care about. By paying attention to the language their employees use, all kinds of organizations might help reduce customer anxiety and frustration, improve satisfaction, and build trust with customers in what are truly challenging times.”