How language improves customer service

Ben Goodey
Ben Goodey
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The use of positivity, empathy and tone of voice have long been used to create winning customer service experiences.

But, what about the language we use to talk to each other about customer service?

And how does the language we use internally impact the customer?

Research has proven that the words we use impact perception and memory in a situation.

“Languages...focus our perception, attention, and thought on specific aspects of the world.”—Antonio Benítez-Burraco, Linguist

It follows that company culture is shaped by language used more than we know.

From taboos on certain words (‘sorry’) to clear vision and mission statements, your common lexicon is directive—interpreted and acted upon.

Two recent guests on the Support Insights podcast, showed us how valuable a tool language can be for both the customer and the customer service department.

Let's hear from them.

Buzzbike's internal lexicon

Charlotte Spain, Customer Service Manager at Buzzbike, came on our podcast to share how she has built a “customer-obsessed” culture at Buzzbike.

Charlotte leans on the theories of Danny Meyer, the famous restaurateur and founder of Shake Shack, to influence others to real value customer service.

One of Meyer’s methods is to create a ‘negative lexicon’—a set of words and phrases that employees should not use when talking to customers or about customers.

“Early on, we developed a lexicon and a negative lexicon - basically things we should say and things we shouldn’t. We’ll never say the word “customer” (and you hear the team correcting themselves if they do say it) as they are our “riders”, and this lexicon really elevates the importance of our members and stops it being “just customer service”.—Charlotte Spain

The phrase “customer service” comes with a lot of connotations. 

Everyone's had a bad customer service experience or two, and the department has historically been shunned and underfunded (See from cost-centre to revenue driver). 

Renaming the department is a clear signal to shed old connotations and to start valuing the art of customer service.

Here are 5 other parts of Buzzbike's lexicon:

  1. Customers are called Riders.
  2. Customer Service is called Rider Happiness.
  3. When interacting with customers, you call them Customer Champions.
  4. Bike Mechanics are called bike Professors.
  5. The warehouse is called the Bike Hub.

All of these force new ways of thinking about existing roles and duties. A bike mechanic may see themselves as a person who just fixes bikes, but a Bike Professor? That’s an expert, who exists to educate and grow relationships with customers.

Hear from Charlotte in this short clip from the podcast (full episode here):

Why Gousto avoids the word 'deflection'

Gousto, the famed recipe kit delivery company, has built a competitive advantage around its customer service department.

Joe Quinlivan, Head of Customer Care at Gousto walked me through one of their biggest wins as a team: automatically handling 50% of all customer contacts using automation and AI.

The Gousto team discovered that a large portion of customer requests, while important, were simple and repetitive to deal with. 

Missing ingredient issues, for example, were driving high volumes of contact, and by and large, Gousto refunded customers for the error every time.

Given the repeatability and ease of handling the issues, the Gousto team built an automated system to deal with those customer complaints. Now, Gousto customers can sign in and get a refund without contacting a human agent—a resolution in 30 seconds or less.

What wowed me during this story was Gousto’s customer-first approach. While reducing contact volume by 50% is an enormous win from a cost perspective, the real goal was always to improve customer experience.

“We intentionally never use the word deflection or anything along those lines. We think that’s the wrong approach. What we’re trying to do is empower our customers to self-serve, because we know they value the efficiency of self-service. We only want to reduce contacts through the lens of customer experience.”—Joe Quinlivan

Internally, the customer care team stays clear of the word “deflection”, and focuses instead on empowering the customer to self-serve. 

Deflection has negative connotations—it implies wanting to get rid of customers, rather than supporting them. 

Joe and the Gousto team have done the work, they have proven that positive customer care interactions increase retention and lifetime value. 

As a result, ‘deflection’ is not part of the lexicon, but providing a great customer experience is.

Hear from Joe in this short clip from the podcast (full episode here):

Language matters.

Words shape perception which shapes culture and action.

Imagine if a simple change to your lexicon can create a more earth-shaking shift; where agents feel a greater responsibility to deliver 'happiness', other departments take the initiative to care about CX, and senior budget holders hold customer service up as a key driver of growth.

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