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Why Word Choice Matters

Sep 14, 2015 :: 0 Comments

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You’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters”? Research by conversation analysts suggests that we may want to put more stock in the ole’ adage, and how it relates to customer interactions. Of course, it’s no surprise that tone of voice matters–customers can sniff out an attitude from a mile away, no matter the phone or computer barrier. Yet one thing which is often overlooked is how we say what we say, in terms of the actual words we choose.

John Heritage and Jeffrey D. Robinson have studied the difference which a simple word change–switching from “some” to “any”– can have in doctor-patient interactions in the medical field. The problem: Patients hadn’t voiced all of their concerns and left appointments dissatisfied, resulting in more work down the line (sound familiar?). The researchers tweaked the doctors’ wrap-up questions, from “Is there anything else we need to take care of today?” to “Is there something else we need to take care of today?”

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The difference is subtle, but made a big impact: Doctors heard more concerns, patients were more satisfied, and efficiency improved overall. Researchers noticed that “anything” most often elicited negative responses, and rephrased the question to be more inviting and open to response. The transferability of the study to customer service is clear, but representatives can also take the message that phrasing matters more than they may realize.

There are many word swaps to consider working into your conversations. Consider the difference between “I can do that for you” and “I will make sure to do that for you”; between “I can help you out with that” and “I can absolutely help you out with that”; between “It’s been nice speaking with you” and “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.”  These ridiculously simple changes can make a world of difference for how the customer receives your service (even if they can’t quite place why).

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Most language training in customer service (if there is any at all) sticks to the basics: say your “please”s and “thank you”s, be polite, and maybe even stick to a script. But ignoring the importance of word choice can create a missed opportunity. Going over conversations with a fine-toothed comb for specific word choices can provide keys to why conversations went unexpectedly wrong or right.

If you do not have enough resources to handle customer service in-house for your business or not willing to make the investment in training and on-boarding a new employee – outsourcing live chat support could be a great option

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