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I’m Sorry, Being Polite Doesn’t Satisfy Customers

Posted on 8.17.2014

The phrase “I’m sorry” can have a significant impact on customer service satisfaction according to a new report from Zendesk.

Zendesk’s second quarterly Benchmark report for 2014 reveals that customer satisfaction drops as service agents more frequently use apologetic (sorry) or polite vocabulary (please or thank) in a conversation. A reason as to why customer satisfaction decreases when there is an increase in apologetic and polite language could be because this type of language indicates more steps to solve a problem, thus longer resolution times for customers. That said, the report shows that customers who use polite language actually tend to be more satisfied than customers who do not, with the data finding an 84.4 percent satisfaction rate for polite customers and an 81.4 percent satisfaction rate for customers who do not use polite words.

“Our research shows that word choice and word frequency have a direct correlation with customer satisfaction,” said Sam Boonin, vice president of products at Zendesk and research lead on the Zendesk Benchmark report. “We’ve found there are triggers around the word ‘sorry’, and when used more than twice there is a problem brewing. This can be a helpful indicator for companies to know when to escalate a ticket, avoiding an unhappy customer.”

In addition to polite language, the report sheds light on the influence of sign-off language. According to the data, interactions with the sign off “Best Wishes” result in the lowest customer satisfaction rate of 72.6 percent. Comparatively, interactions with no sign off average an 81.6 percent satisfaction rate, while interactions with the sign off “Yours Sincerely” average the highest satisfaction rate of 86.4 percent.

Other noteworthy findings from the study found that wordier requests for help typically lead to lower customer satisfaction rates – with the exception of email. Moreover, users with Yahoo email addresses typically have the lowest customer satisfaction scores, averaging 75.4 percent, while .Mac users average a satisfaction score of 84.6 percent.


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