• Ivaylo Yorgov

CX Science: use "I" to increase customer satisfaction


  • Using "I" instead of "We" in service encounters increases customer satisfaction and purchase intention.

  • Explicitly referring to the customer (saying "You") or not, doesn't make a difference to customer satisfaction and purchase intention.

Now what:

  • To improve customer satisfaction in service encounters, ask your contact center representatives to say "I".


A few words about words

Words matter, and how we use them is not a trivial matter.

Words are lenses. They mark the boundaries between things; we use them to slice up our world into more or less arbitrary chunks - spaces of meaning if you will. Words do not just carry meaning around - they create it by focusing our attention to some aspects of reality while leaving others aside. Donald Alexander Mackenzie puts it brilliantly in the title of his book on modern economic theories - "An engine, not a camera".

We can think of words as our verbal fingerprints. We are all more or less unique in our use of words and in the way we construct our sentences. These differences help us impact others and help others form an impression of us.

The specific words we use are just as important in the consumer context as in the rest of our lives. We could boil a regular service encounter down to two things: what gets done (e.g. a problem solved, or a bill paid, or a contract signed) + how it gets done, i.e. attitudes conveyed through words and body language.

In a previous post, we examined how showing customers appreciation mitigates the negative effects of service failure better than apologizing.

Here, I offer you another prominent example of how words can alter customers' perceptions. Grant Packard, Sarah Moore, and Brent McFerran set off on a journey to investigate a common contention: that addressing the customer (using 'you' a lot) and 'we' referencing, as in 'We, the company I work for', are beneficial for increasing customer satisfaction.

The results will surprise you. Read on.


"You" and "We" prevail

Here's a brief quiz before we move on: Which one works best in customer service interactions?

  • "Happy to help you.",

  • "We are happy to help.",

  • "I am happy to help.",

  • "We are happy to help you", or

  • "Happy to help"

If I guess it correctly, you probably think that including a reference to the customer ("you") is better; and you are likely to think that going for "We" is better than "I". This guess is informed by what Packard, Moore, and McFerran found when studying actual customer service interaction - a prevalence of "You" and "We" references.

"You" and "I"

So far, it all makes intuitive sense. Businesses try to be customer centric, so referring to the customer sounds logical. And using "I" is often considered self-centered and often times service reps and sales people avoid it.

Packard, Moore, and McFerran set off to investigate. First, they designed an experiment in which they asked participants to imagine they are customers; then they showed them the same response, only framed differently, i.e. they replaced "We" with "I".

The results: the "I" response lead to higher customer satisfaction and higher purchase intention compared to the "We" one. Why so? Because when employees use "I" customers consider them more empathetic and acting on their behalf. Both of these then increase the satisfaction with the service encounter.

As for the use of "You", as in "Happy to help you." - its addition or omission has zero impact on customer satisfaction or purchase intention. Zilch. It just makes no difference to customers whether you explicitly refer to them.

In a nutshell, if you want to increase customer satisfaction in service encounters, use "I" in your sentences as using "We" wouldn't add anything. Similarly, feel free to omit the explicit "You" - it adds nothing to customers' satisfaction.

My best wishes for a great day ahead!

CX Inspirations - card 16
Download PDF • 31KB