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12 July 2021

Use “I” not “We” when speaking to customers.

By tristan

Use “I” not “We” when speaking to customers.

Have you ever wondered where the “best practices” in customer interactions come from? A 1982 study states that company agents should downplay their “self” and emphasize the “firm”.

In a recent study of customer service managers in the US, it showed 92% would answer a customer email with “We are happy help answer this question”, rather than “I am happy to help answer this question.”

Recommendation

The 2018 study proves that sales teams, customer service, from both B2B and B2C can improve customer acquisition, spending, and satisfaction by changing pronoun used with in communications.

Interaction with customers on all platforms should use the pronoun “I” (e.g. I can help you with that.) instead of “We” (e.g. We can help you with that).

Effect

  • When speaking with customers, using “I” (the agent) rather than “We” (the company) increases customer satisfaction and sales. It works across all types of interaction and communication (e.g., inquiries, complaints, etc…).
  • For example:
    • Analysis 1,277 customer service email interactions and sales data of a large online retailer found that 10% more use of “I” in communication increases sales by 0.8%. Since 90% of the cases in which “We” was used could be change to “I” would have seen an increase of 7%.
    • When using real emails from 6 firms in an experiment, people were 10% more satisfied and had 15% higher purchase intention when agents used “I” rather than “We”.
  • The use of “You” (“Happy to answer your question”) when speak to customers has no positive effect over (“Happy to answer the question”).

Why it works.

  • “I” increases our perception that the agent is emotionally involved in the interaction and emphasizes with us. This positive feeling spills over to the firm.
  • Using “We” makes the speak seems distant. They feel more part of the firm than involved in our situation.
  • Using “You” during interaction doesn’t add any benefit because it’s already clear that the agent is referring to us if they’re speaking to us.

Limitations

  • The research was conducted in English. It’s unclear if and how the effects would differ for other languages.
  • Using “We” when referring to the agent and customer (“We”: agent + customer, e.g. We can work this out together) rather than the firm (exclusive “We”: agent + firm) is beneficial.
  • The effect may extend to company spokespersons or endorsers (e.g. in ads), but this was not tested.
  • Note that this research refers to interactions with customers. For example, a customer reading information would be different. 

Steps to implement

  • Update your training guidelines for a more personal approach.
  • Encourage customer service representatives to see themselves as personally involved in the customer’s needs, rather than impersonal representatives of your company.

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