Don’t Count Your Blessings, Count Your ‘Sorrys’

it-guy-314424_640Several news services and blogs were writing about the same subject recently and they caught my attention.

They were discussing a study conducted by Zendesk and generally they were concluding that the more often a customer service agent says “sorry,” “please” or “thank you” the angrier the customer gets. One article put it like this:

“The more times you tell your customers you’re ‘sorry,’ ‘thank you’ or ‘please” when they come to you for help, the angrier they tend to get, new research finds.”

Correlation vs Causation

It’s true that the Zendesk study found a direct correlation between those words – especially “sorry” – and an increase in customer anger. However, most writers opining on the topic made an analytical error that runs rampant today: mistaking correlation for causation.

If you read the study, you’ll see that it tries, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, to explain this. Let me see if I can make it a little clearer.

When a customer service interaction is not going well, the agent will naturally use a greater number of words such as “sorry,” “please or “thank you.” Of course, when that happens the customer is getting angrier by the minute as well. Those words don’t cause the anger, they reflect a situation that engenders anger in a customer.

Further, when customer service calls are problematic, they are lengthier and therefore naturally include more of these polite and apologetic words.

Some of you may have seen these articles that attempt to summarize the study’s findings. I wanted to shed additional light on it because I don’t want you to run out to the floor and tell your customer service representatives to stop being courteous on the phone!

Develop awareness

How can you make good use of this information? You should discuss the study findings with your staff and help them become more aware of how often they find themselves using these words – and as I said above, when the word “sorry” begins to be used frequently, customers are getting pretty ticked off.

If your agents start hearing themselves use these trigger words too often in one customer service interaction, they need to take action and find a better way to resolve the situation so they can stop walking further down that “sorry” road. Also, by making your agents sensitive to these words, you’ll also get them listening more closely to what they are saying, which is always a good thing.

Before we leave the topic, the study offered another interesting piece of related information. When customers use polite words such as “please” and “thank you,” it tends to indicate greater satisfaction with the customer service interaction.

So here’s the winning formula: Things are going well when your agents don’t have to be walking on eggshells and apologizing all the time, and when your customers are speaking in very polite terms.

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Image: Public Domain CC0.