Reps “Shift” Language For customers

When frontline reps use “concrete language,” customers feel seen, heard, and valued.

Recent research from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shows how simple shifts in language can help reps improve customer satisfaction and retention. A team of researchers conducted five separate experiments and measured participants’ reactions and emotions.

“We found that a certain type of language improves customer satisfaction,” says marketing professor Jonah Berger. “It doesn’t just make people happier, it causes them to be more likely to come back and buy more in the future. This linguistic feature is called ‘concreteness,’ basically how concrete the language is that people use.”

Concrete language is tangible and specific, and it often allows the listener to visualize what is being said. As Berger explains, “you can see it, touch it, or feel it.” He offers an example from a familiar retail setting. A customer is shopping for a shirt and has asked the salesperson if another size is available. The salesperson might respond with one of the following comments as she heads toward the stock room:

• “I’ll see if I can find that.”

• “I’ll see if I can find the gray shirt in size medium.”

The first example is very general. The second example is more concrete and stirs the imagination — the customer knows that the employee is looking for the shirt she wants and she can visualize the shirt. This type of specific language signals that the employee is listening and understands the customer’s needs.

The full article on concrete language, including exercises and a self-quiz, appears in the November issue of Customer Communicator, the training newsletter for frontline reps.

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