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Sep 14, 2015 :: 1 Comment

Words Have Power

We have all heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters.”

Of course, it’s no surprise that tone of voice matters.  However, research by conversation analysts suggests that we should put more stock in the old adage, and how it relates to customer interactions.   Despite the technological barrier established by phones and computers, customers can still sniff out an attitude from a mile away. No matter how sunny our disposition may be on the other end of the line, our word choice matters.


A Medical Study in Word Choice

John Heritage and Jeffrey D. Robinson studied the difference a simple word change can make by testing the substitution of the word “some” for the word “any,” and analyzing the impact the change had on doctor-patient interactions. The catalyst for the study: Patients hadn’t voiced all of their concerns and were leaving appointments dissatisfied.  This was only resulting in unnecessary obstacles for doctors and their patients later on in the care process (sound familiar?).

Thus, the researchers decided to tweak 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?  The difference was subtle, but it made a big impact. By modifying one word during patient questioning, doctors changed the course of the visit. As a result, medical personnel heard more concerns, patients were more satisfied and efficiency improved overall. The scientists noticed that “anything” most often elicited negative responses, and rephrased the question to be more inviting and open to feedback.


How You Can Use Word Choice To Improve Your Interactions With Customers

The findings of the study can easily be applied to any business’s customer service plan.  Train your customer service representatives to understand the importance of phrasing.  Encourage them to use more positive and open-ended statements. There are many substitutions 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.”  Try saying, “I will absolutely help you out with that,” instead of  “I can help you out with that.”  Or, change the words, “It’s been nice speaking with you” to “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.”  These unbelievably simple adjustments can make a world of difference in how your customers respond to the service you provide.

It is true that most traditional customer service language training relies on the basics such as being polite (saying “please” and “thank you”) or requiring your staff to stick to a script. However, it is even more important to provide a personalized experience with appropriately and strategically chosen words. Companies that ignore the importance of word choice are only creating missed opportunities. Take the time to improve your interactions with customers by analyzing the conversations your staff has with them.  A closer look at word choice can reveal the key 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 onboarding a new employee – outsourcing live chat support could be a great option.



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