issues and experts

Customer satisfaction: how should your clients really be addressed?

July 04, 2018

Link to study:

A study by SFU business professor Brent McFerran suggests that training programs currently being used to train customer service reps (CSR) on how to address their clients may be leading frontline staff astray. Some customer service experts say that firm agents should emphasize how “we” (the firm) serve “you” (the customer), while de- emphasizing “I” (the agent) in these customer-firm interactions.

But the study findings, published in the Journal of Marketing Research suggest that CSRs who refer to themselves using “I” rather than “we” pronouns increase customer perceptions that the CSR feels and acts on their behalf. McFerran, together with researchers from Wilfred Laurier University and the University of Alberta, ran five studies using lab experiments and field data from real firms.

In turn, these positive perceptions of empathy and agency lead to increased customer satisfaction, purchase intentions, and purchase behavior. Their field analysis shows that a 10 per cent  increase in “I” pronoun use by CSRs corresponds to a 0.8% increase in customer purchase volume. This would suggest that firms could substantially benefit from retraining their employees.

e.g. We can find that product.

In addition, their findings also suggest that how CSRs are currently being taught to address the customer, using customer-referencing “you” pronouns, have little impact on outcomes that lead to customer satisfaction and can sometimes have negative consequences.

e.g. We can find that product (for you).

“As more businesses make the shift to an online store presence, the more important it is to consider how their CSRs are communicating with their customers,” says Brent McFerran. “In a face-to-face setting you could rely on body language and tonality to communicate empathy and agency. When most online interactions are through email or live chat this isn’t possible.”

Brent McFerran, Beedie School of Business, 778.782.5214,
Justin Wong, University Communications, 778.782.3035/778.782.5151,