You’ll never guess which three words are driving your customers nuts

We all know that communication is vital to doing business. It’s also an important way startups position themselves in the way they would like their customers to see them; the voice and tone we use reflects our values and approach.


Many startups opt for a fun and enthusiastic approach to business, which is reflected in their language, while others aim for professional corporate-style communication in order to be more accessible to the big end of town.


Our most recent Zendesk Benchmark report found a direct correlation between word choice and word frequency and customer satisfaction.


When customer-facing staff repeatedly use apologetic or polite vocabulary such as “sorry,” “please” and “thank you” when a customer comes to them for help, the angrier they tend to get.


However, the research revealed that the increasing use of “sorry” drops customer satisfaction at a much faster rate than such expressions as “please” or “thank you.”

Does this mean you should immediately send out a memo to all your customer-facing staff telling them to stop using these three words? Of course not, being polite and courteous has always been the foundation of good customer service.


We do have some good insights into the behavioural cues of both customers and staff and the winning formula to keeping your customers happy.


Saying “sorry” might make you sorry

Certain words, especially “sorry,” if repeated too much by your staff, indicate the customer satisfaction will plummet because the conversation is going on too long—and the problem is probably not getting fixed.


The words themselves may not be the cause of the anger but reflect that difficult situations are more likely to take longer to resolve, so the staff member will naturally use a greater number of apologetic and polite words. We’ve found that when the word “sorry” is used more than twice there is a problem brewing. This can be a helpful indicator for startups to know when to escalate an enquiry and avoid an unhappy customer.


Keep an eye on the word count


One of the most interesting findings of the research deals with the word count of the initial enquiry created by the customer. Happy customers don’t tend to spend time writing a War and Peace-length request, but does a wordier communication from a customer always indicate lower customer satisfaction?


As it turns out, the answer depends on the method used to contact you. When a customer submits a lengthy request for help via an online form, it’s probably not a love letter. More likely, it’s an unhappy customer on a rant.


The same correlation does not exist with email, where the length of the communication is not a predictor of that customer’s satisfaction. One explanation for this is that email allows for a draft to be saved, giving its author time to cool down, reflect, and write something more measured. Since a web form lacks this option, customers might be contacting companies while still inflamed over an issue.


Polite customers are happy customers


Being overbearing, overly stern, or generally rude is a common strategy for some customers seeking better service. However, customers who use polite words such as “please” and “thank you” tend to submit higher customer satisfaction scores than those who don’t. In other words, when customers are friendly and considerate, you and your staff will often go the extra mile to serve them better and they’re probably going to end up happier in the long run.


The right sign-off is important

The closing of a message or email presents you with an opportunity to provide some personalisation to a customer communication. However, not all valedictions will have the same effect. Our research showed that agents concluding customer interactions with “best regards,” “cheers” or “yours sincerely” were 14% more likely to receive a higher satisfaction score than those using “best wishes.” There is no clear answer as to why there is such an aversion to the phrase “best wishes,” but whatever the reason it is clear that small details like this can have a serious impact.


For startups, it’s essential to define the right tone and direction of your customer interactions early on to help guide you as your company and customer base grows. Train your staff to understand the importance of word choice, what makes customers happy and what the triggers are that make them unhappy and you will be rewarded with more satisfied and loyal customers—the key to any successful business.

Daniel Scheltinga is director of support and services, Asia-Pacific, Zendesk.


Image credit: Flickr/naamanus


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