Should you use “I” instead of “We” in communicating with customers?
Should you use “I” or “We” when you deal directly with customers or clients on behalf of your organization? This is important because a company’s choice of pronouns can affect a customer’s experience and whether it will lead to a purchase.
The latest research used word analysis of interactions with customers to evaluate if organizations can give better service through the pronouns they use by phone or email with customers. Word analysis is more reliable than asking people to document what they are thinking or feeling because self-reporting is poorly related to real world behaviors.
In the experiment, Sarah Moore, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Alberta in Canada, sent ‘customer’ emails to a random sample of the top 100 online retailers and found 40% used the pronoun “We”, as in “We’re happy to help you.”
Her research found the customer would be happier if the customer service representative used “I” because it suggests the rep personally feels empathetic towards the customer and acts to help them. It shows the rep is attempting to understand the problem, feels for the customer, takes responsibility for what happened and is empowered to respond. In the Knowledge@Wharton newsletter of 16 February 2018, she said:
‘I’ pronouns increase the customer’s satisfaction with the representative and increase purchase intentions with the firm.”
“We” is a plural pronoun and can be interpreted consciously or subconsciously as being the representative’s way of dodging personal accountability, so it is better to avoid “We” when “I” can be used effectively instead.
Some initial general contact phrases are hard to avoid, like “Your call is important to us,” “Your patience is greatly appreciated,” “Thank you for contacting us,” but when you or other organizational representatives are dealing directly with customers by phone or email, you all should use “I” where you can.
For instance, the above phrases could be changed in your email or phone response to these types of responses instead:
- “I would like to help sort out the problem you have raised.”
- “I appreciate your patience while I have been dealing with other calls.”
- “Thanks for your patience while I have been helping other callers.
- “Thanks for waiting: how can I help you.”
- “Thanks for contacting us about this problem: I hope I have been able to help you sort it out.”
As a communicator, you can become involved in such operational / customer-facing activities and seek to have some input because they directly involve communication. As long as you are tactful and seen as wanting to help rather than being perceived to be stepping outside your area of responsibility or expertise, your input will be accepted positively. Findings from research data, as above, will be vital to your case.
Of course, you should also seek to initiate this subtle, but significant use of “I” into your own interactions with customers, media and clients so you personalize the conversation where appropriate.