Laurier professor researches effects of pronouns in costumer service

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Photo by Sadman Sakib Rahman

The world of customer service is vast and everyone can agree upon its presence in their lives; whether working for a retailer as a representative or being the recipient of those services as a customer, client and/or patient.

Grant Packard, an assistant professor of marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, has discovered through his ongoing research that our general approach to speaking with consumers is inherently flawed and ineffective in creating satisfactory results.

Packard’s initial inquiry about the use of personal pronouns by customer service providers began about five years ago when he was starting out as a researcher.

His interests lay primarily with the logistics of customer orientation and as a result, he began examining the use of personal pronouns in customer service emails, phone calls as well as in-person exchanges from numerous Canadian retailers. With this data, Packard made conclusions about the effectiveness of certain language when addressing customers and what ultimately works best in creating sales or client satisfaction.

“The basic conclusion is that when it comes to speaking to clients or customers, what’s most important is that the person who is taking care of somebody else refers to themselves … using a first person singular pronoun — I, me, my,” Packard said. “It signals that you’re more personally involved in taking care of the customer, or client or patient.”

Packard’s conclusion, that first person singular pronouns have a more profitable effect in consumer relations, is based on two inferences: “empathy, you’re feeling on behalf of the customer; and agency, you’re acting on behalf of the customer,” Packard explained.

Additionally, Packard discussed that those working to assist in consumer interactions must keep in mind that they are both a servant of an organization and its needs, as well as a representative of the client and their needs.

Compared to using plural pronouns such as “we,” the client feels as though you are individually acting and assisting them, creating a more genuine interaction.

Packard further explained that although the use of first-person singular pronouns are more effective, it is not the most common form of communication in use among retailers and those working in the public sector. It is far more common for these representatives to refer to themselves with plural pronouns, using terms such as we, us and our,” Packard said.

“The reason they’re not referring to ‘I, me, or my’ is because they’re referring to themselves as part of a company or part of an organization,” Packard elaborated.

“This is unusual because people in these roles are taught to not to refer to themselves, to make it all about [the customer]”.

Packard’s research further determines that by doing just this, and making it all about the customer through the use of second-person personal pronouns, there is a tendency for the client to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Additionally, Packard discussed that those working to assist in consumer interactions must keep in mind that they are both a servant of an organization and its needs, as well as a representative of the client and their needs.

Leave a Reply