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Cost-effective way to Boost Customer Satisfaction

Wharton | Sep 20, 2021

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When customers feel satisfied, they spend more money and are more likely to come back. Happy customers write positive reviews online and share their experiences through word of mouth. But great customer service is also really hard. Shoppers complain that sales associates aren’t listening to them or are just going through the motions.  There is a simple and cost-effective way to fix that, and Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has new research that explains how. He found that when sales agents use concrete language, they make customers feel seen, heard, and valued. His paper with co-author Grant Packard, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, is titled “How Concrete Language Shapes Customer Satisfaction.”

Knowledge@Wharton: Did you find that [something as simple as words agents used make customers more satisfied?]?

Berger: We did. We found that a certain type of language improves customer satisfaction. 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.  Sometimes we speak in a more abstract way, and sometimes we speak in a more concrete way. We found speaking more concretely, using more concrete language in a variety of customer service or sales interactions, can not only make the customer more satisfied, but also make them more likely to buy in the future.


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Knowledge@Wharton: There has been exponential growth in online shopping, especially in the last 18 months, and online customers are going by the descriptions of the products. Should companies be using more concrete language in how they write these descriptions?

“The idea of something being concrete is you can see it, touch it, or feel it. You can experience it.”

Berger: Certainly. Whether we’re talking about online sales interactions and product descriptions, whether we’re talking about written content online, people are more likely to continue reading because they can understand what’s going on. Even in the “help” pages of a website, more concrete language makes you feel like the page is more helpful because it makes it easier to understand. Concrete language can be a great and relatively easy way to improve customer behavior or consumer behavior on a variety of dimensions.

Knowledge@Wharton: Your research often focuses on the psychological and semantic components of marketing. What are you going to bring us next?

Berger: If we’re talking and I pause for a second, you tend to go, “Uh-huh,” because it’s a natural thing to do. You tend to agree with someone when they’re speaking. It’s the polite thing to do. What we find is that the more the customer service agent pauses in these interactions, the more they give customers an opportunity to assent, to agree, to say, “Uh-huh, yeah, uh-huh.” A lot of research shows that assenting improves liking and interactions, so we find higher customer satisfaction for pauses in social interaction.

“Whether we’re trying to sell something or we’re talking to our spouse, people like being listened to.”

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