Customer service GIFs and using your discretion

GIFs are a mainstay in our social lives. Anyone that’s interacted with friends, family, and even colleagues online will have likely seen — and used — GIFs. They populate social media and personal messaging apps. They’re a way to communicate, joke, and share a sentiment.

But could they do the same in a more formal setting, like customer service? Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether GIFs should have a place in customer service interactions.

The answer, it seems, is not a one-size-fits-all. Here, we explore the use of customer service GIFs and the importance of using your discretion.


GIFs in customer service

Before getting into the question about whether you should use customer service GIFs, it’s worth thinking first about where you could use them. Any online, text-based communication could, in theory, accommodate a customer service GIF or two.

For a start, there’s the option to use GIFs whenever a customer connects with you through a social media platform. Social media is essentially the home of GIFs. People — including your customers — are used to finding GIFs on social media. Why could they not be part of your social media service, then?

Your chat channel is another platform where GIF use makes sense. After all, they’re regularly used when messaging friends, family and colleagues. It stands to reason that the same applies to your customer service chats. Plus, compared to other channels, chat lends itself to a more informal feeling. And it’s in these informal moments that customer service GIFs could have a place.

Lastly, you may even consider occasionally adding a GIF to your customer service emails.


Different types of GIF

You can make GIFs out of video snippets, out of a series of still images, or with a screencast. Or, you can use pre-made GIFs. When it comes to customer service GIFs, there are different kinds and functions to choose from.

The most obvious are the GIFs that you use in your social life — ones derived from pop culture. (TV shows, memes, movies and so on.) In a customer service setting, these are the GIFs you’d likely use to add a human flair to an otherwise vanilla conversation. They’re the GIFs that people will recognise from interactions with their friends or other content they consume.

You can also make your own branded GIFs. For example, you could create GIFs that succinctly show off your product or a specific feature. Or, you could create GIFs that demonstrate common support instructions. Sometimes, it’s easier to understand step-by-step images showing you what to do, than it is a wall of written instructions.


The case against using GIFs in customer service

The main argument against customer service GIFs is that they’re unprofessional. That is, there shouldn’t be a place for them in a business interaction of any kind.

Used at the wrong time or in the wrong way, customer service GIFs run the risk of annoying or confusing the customer. And that makes for a bad experience.

Customers are there for help and support. They’ve contacted you for a specific reason. And they might not always be in a great mood.

If, then, you end up sending them inappropriate or overly cutesy GIFs, it can leave a sour taste in their mouth.

Plus, the informal nature of GIFs, in some cases, could damage the trust and confidence a customer has in your service.


The case for customer service GIFs

However, the tide is changing. Customer service GIFs are becoming more and more popular. Used in the right way, GIFs can bring colour to a dull, scripted conversation.

A little bit of well-timed fun never hurt anyone, after all.

For example, GIFs could help you brighten a customer’s experience by making them laugh or smile. They could help you appeal to a wider audience. They can even help answer the loss of non-verbal communication, by informing tone and sentiment behind the messages you type.

For the right companies, GIFs can provide a way to highlight your friendly, informal company culture and create a jovial tone of voice.


The need for discretion

The question of whether you should use customer service GIFs, then, is that it depends. And herein lies the need for your discretion. The correct use of GIFs in customer service varies on a case by case basis, with many contributing factors.

For instance, it depends on the customer’s tone. A GIF probably won’t appease a customer that’s upset or angry about a problem. Such customers expect to be taken seriously, and GIFs are too informal for that.

Meanwhile, if you’ve solved the problem, or the customer is jovial and happy, they’re much more likely to enjoy a well-chosen GIF.

You’ll also need to consider whether GIFs work for your brand and company tone of voice. Does the informal and humorous nature of GIFs fit into your industry? For instance, if you’re a funeral business, GIFs aren’t likely to fit naturally into your conversations.

Which brings us to the importance of authenticity. Adding GIFs to a customer interaction mustn’t feel forced, or shoehorned into your service. The customer is primarily connecting to your chat or seeking you on social media because they need service, not a humorous afternoon swapping GIFs. Agents should only send a GIF when it feels natural to do so — not because they’re told they must send them in every chat.

Mistimed, misplaced and tone-deaf customer service GIFs will do more harm than good.


How to use customer service GIFs

If you think customer service GIFs do have a place in your brand tone of voice, how should you use them? This, again, comes down to your discretion, based on what best suits your customer, their needs, and your tone of voice.

A good time to use customer service could be to bring colour to your canned responses and scripted openings. Thinks hellos and goodbyes, or answering FAQs. For example, you could send a GIF of something waving when you say hello. Or a thumbs up if the customer says they don’t need anything else and the chat is about to end.  

Another time you could choose to use customer service GIFs might be to illustrate your advice in cases of support. This could be a screencast GIF that shows exactly what to press (and where to find it) to fix the problem. Used alongside a verbal explanation, you stand to reduce issues related to the Pictionary problem. It’s another way to convey understanding.


Universal don’ts

In general, customer service GIFs should punctuate a point and help to make your meaning clear, communicate a mood or emotion (empathetically) or bring a bit of life to an otherwise boring message. They should not get in the way of good customer service. As such, there are a few universal don’ts to remember.

  • • Don’t let them get in the way of effective support

Remember, GIFs should act as a garnish to your support, not overpower the dish. You can’t use GIFs in place of human conversation and effective service.

  • • Don’t be controversial

GIFs are fun, but they’re also used to spark commentary. Which is great, but not appropriate for customer service interactions. So, stay away from political/religiously charged GIFs and wedge issues.

  • • Don’t be insensitive

Always read the tone of the chat, check the sentiment of the customer. Only use GIFs when they add to the conversation and align with the customer’s sentiment.


Customer service GIFs

You shouldn’t use customer service GIFs for the sake of it. Everything you do while interacting with your customer should, in some way, provide value to them.

Maybe that value is a visualisation of what they need to do. Maybe it’s the added glow of a friendly human connection. Maybe it’s just a cute sign off to make them smile.

As with anything, discretion is key when it comes to customer service GIFs. Whether to use them or not depends on the GIF, your brand, your industry, and the mindset of the customer. There’s no universal, one-size-fits-all answer.