How language boosts customer satisfaction

When customers feel satisfied, they spend more money and are more likely to return. 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.

Dialog box showing five stars.

There is a simple and cost-effective way to fix that, and Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has new research that explains how. He finds that when sales agents use concrete language, they make customers feel seen, heard, and valued. His paper, “How Concrete Language Shapes Customer Satisfaction,” is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“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,” explains Berger.

“Our research finds that, in many cases, language can be similarly effective as free stuff. Not always, and it depends on what you’re giving away. Obviously, the bigger the thing you’re giving away, the more happy people will be. But language can be an opportunity to make them equally satisfied. And in cases where it’s a sales interaction, where you’re not giving something away, language is a great way to make those things go more effectively.”

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.