CX Science: speak concretely to make your customers happier
Using more concrete (vs more abstract) language makes customers happier and they spend more.
This happens because when employees speak more concretely, customers think they are listening more.
Advice your customer service reps to speak more concretely to customers.
Use more concrete language on your website or your print materials.
Don't you just love it when complex challenges have simple solutions?
To the best of my knowledge, a whole lot of things take a new form when we start talking about them differently. Words are lenses and they are not all made the same. Similar content expressed differently can profoundly change the way we and others perceive it.
In a previous blog post we explored how saying "Thank you" and appreciating the customer works better than saying "Sorry". In a study published just a couple of months ago, Grant Packard and Jonah Berger explored how the use of more concrete or abstract language by employees and in marketing communication shape customer behaviour. Read on.
What's abstract, and what's concrete?
First off, what do abstract and concrete language mean? Here are two examples from Packard and Berger's studies. As you'll notice, it's all about a very minor variation in language, which makes their findings even more impactful for our CX practice:
Abstract: Unfortunately, I can’t just add something from here. I can cancel the order, and you can submit a new order.
Concrete: Unfortunately, I can’t just add the pants from here. I can cancel the shoes, and you can submit a new order.
All of us often revert to using more abstract language when talking about things. This makes sense from every day's life perspective. In most cases it suffices to rely on implied knowledge about things and situations, and we need not be very specific - after all, we all know exactly what are we talking about. It just makes our lives easier.
Besides, "...when communicating positive things about the self or liked others, people use more abstract language because it suggests that these positive attributes are generalizable, stable traits (e.g., "Lisa is kind" rather than "Lisa helped me""). Interestingly, this also applies in word-of-mouth - more abstract language in customer reviews is more persuasive than concrete one because it is easier for us to generalize from the former.
Not so in customer service encounters.
Concrete makes perfect
They started off by investigating how call center agents talk, and whether the calls in which they use more specific language impacted customer satisfaction. As it turns out, it did: a one standard deviation increase in using concrete language led to a 9% increase in customer satisfaction.
The same effect remains in place when Packard and Berger investigated another real-life example: an email exchange between customers and company employees. If you want to increase the amount customers spend with you, reply in concrete language - an increase of one standard deviation in concreteness in the specific company they investigated, resulted in 30% higher spend in the following 90 days.
And finally, have a look at the chart below. It shows customers' willingness to purchase (in a controlled experiment) in different conditions with varying degree of concreteness. In a nutshell, the more concrete, the better for your sales.
What accounts for this effect? Something that business books popularized as a crucial skill: listening. Concrete language makes people think that the employee is paying more attention to the interaction and that he or she is listening more closely. This, in turn, makes them happier, et voila, their spending goes up.
The beauty of this all? It is a relatively simple change we can all implement in our lives and our business interactions. I hope this inspires you to act and make your language more concrete - it will make a significant business impact.
My best wishes for a great day ahead!