Words and Phrases to Use (and Avoid) in Customer Communications

Successful relationships between businesses and customers are built on communication and understanding.

The language of persuasion, satisfaction, or resolution has a long history, but it has traditionally been more of an art than a science. Styles and vocabularies vary widely between industries – many fields develop unique libraries of catch-phrases and template statements.

However, according to Harvard Business Review (HBR) the massive amount of text being produced from digital communications, combined with natural language processing, is opening up new levels of analysis and interpretation in this area of study.

The latest findings from HBR reinforce the importance of a human touch when beginning customer communications:

  • The singular voice (I, me, my) is perceived as more empathetic on behalf of customers than plural pronouns (we, our).
  • Mimicry is linked to customer satisfaction. People who mimic the words and phrases of the person they are interacting with are trusted and liked more.
  • “Relational” words that demonstrate concern (please, thank you, sorry) or signal agreement (yes, okay) are critical in the opening part of service interactions.

Once a personal rapport has been established and the customer is listening, it’s best to shift to more assertive, “take charge” language:

  • As the interaction unfolds, transitioning to “solving” verbs (get, go call, do, put, need, permit, allow, resolve) has the best effects on customer satisfaction.
  • Using more concrete, specific language (turtleneck vs shirt, sneakers vs shoes) signals that the agent is psychologically “closer” to the customer’s personal needs.
  • Direct words and communication phrases that explicitly endorse a product to a customer (I suggest, I recommend) present confidence and expertise and are more persuasive to customers.

Proper usage of language is more important than ever, with more and more business conversations moving online and to other text-based media. Fortunately, a more precise understanding of the words chosen by firstline employees when speaking to customers, and how customers respond, is now possible.

HBR’s complete article about communication and customer satisfaction can be found here.