When it comes to customer service, the goal is to create positive experiences. But customers usually only come in with a problem. Or, they want things that you might not be able to satisfy. This common stand-off can make delivering a positive customer experience tricky.
One subtle – but important – tactic that customer service agents have at their disposal to shift the mood is positive language use. Positive language use is the difference between:
- • I’m sorry for your wait.
- • Thank you for your patience!
As this simple example shows, there’s power in the way we word and frame sentences. So, what constitutes positive language, and how do you use it in your customer service chats?
What is positive language?
When you use positive language, you use words with positive connotations. This then creates sentences with an overall upbeat, encouraging tone.
A common misconception in the world of customer service interactions is that of the Mehrabian myth. Mehrabian states that more meaning comes from our tone of voice and facial cues than the words we use. This assertion is false in many ways, and the importance of word choice is one such overlooked aspect in the Mehrabian myth.
Positive language is language that reassures, inspires, and encourages. It offers options and alternatives. And, rather than focusing on what can’t be done, it focuses on what can.
Positive language use vs negative language
A good way to understand what constitutes positive language is to compare it with negative language.
|Positive language||Negative language|
|Active, (i.e., I will)||Passive|
|Helpful, (i.e., I statements)||Blaming, (i.e., you statements)|
|Says what to do/what will be done||Focuses on what not to do/can’t be done|
For a quick working example, you can view it as the difference between using ‘not bad’ versus using ‘good’. Both mean the same thing, technically. But the negative construction of ‘not bad’ instantly puts ‘bad’ into the customer’s mind. It implicitly suggests that while there’s nothing to really complain about, things aren’t ‘good’ either.
Examples of positive language use in customer service
Another way to understand positive language use in customer service is through examples. See the following selection of customer service phrases with negative language, and their positive counterparts.
😞 That item is not in stock, and we won’t get more for another three weeks.
😊 That item is currently out of stock but I can pre-order it for you, and it’ll be with you in three weeks. Would you like me to go ahead with that?
Here, the first message is dismissive. It highlights the negatives of the situation — an inability to purchase a product, and a three-week wait. The use of the word ‘won’t’ also creates a connotation of ‘can, but don’t want to’.
The second message says the same thing — there’s not a product available, and it’ll be three weeks. However, it emphasises that the customer can purchase the product, while downplaying a three-week wait as something that’s not a big deal. The use of positive language — ‘I can’ and ‘it will’ — creates a more upbeat and helpful tone.
😞 I’m unable to do that as it’s against our policy.
😊 I can do XYZ, or we can look at doing ABC. Does either of these options appeal to you?
It’s well known that ‘against our policy’ is a customer service no-no. Customers notoriously hate it, as it suggests the company is actively working against them. It also feels like an excuse to stop helping them.
The second message uses positive language (‘I can’) and offers alternatives. This gives customers a choice, rather than simply shutting down their requests. Focusing on what can be done, not what can’t, is a core tenet of positive language use.
😞 I don’t know.
😊 That’s a great question! I’ll find out for you. While I do that, is there anything else you need today?
In this example, the first message has the negative ‘don’t’. It’s dismissive. It doesn’t offer any help at all to the customer. In the second message, meanwhile, there’s a lot of positive language use. ‘Great’ is a positive word. An upbeat tone gets created by the punctuation (‘!’). There’s an active response — ‘I (will) find out’ — to show that the question will be answered, then a helpful follow-up to keep the conversation flowing.
😞 This bit can be tricky…
😊 This is where it’ll get a bit more interesting…
Say, for instance, you’re talking / typing a customer through a difficult technical support situation. Telling the customer that it is tricky tells them your product/service/website is complex. You’ve emphasised a negative.
‘Interesting’ on the other hand, is a more positive word. You’ve signalled to the customer that it’s worth paying close attention (it’s interesting and deserves that focus) in a positive way.
Tips for creating positive messages
With a clear understanding of what positive language is and how it impacts the tone of your chats, it’s time to view some tips to help you with its use.
- Avoid negative action words
For example, ‘can’t, won’t, don’t, unable’, etc. These words are dismissive and frame the interaction negatively.
- Focus on what you can do
Positive language use is all about taking an active role in the service conversation. It’s focusing on the good things — the things that can be done to solve problems.
- Don’t mention things with negative connotations
For example, use ‘definitely’ instead of ‘no problem’. (‘Problem’ being a negative idea.)
- Use positive words
This includes adverbs like ‘definitely’ and ‘quickly’, as well as adjectives like ‘fantastic’, ‘great’, ‘wonderful’, etc.
- Occasional use of exclamation marks (!) or even emojis
The right punctuation (or emojis) can portray an upbeat, positive attitude when used sparingly. and in the right context. For instance, following the use of a positive adjective. Or a smiley face at the end of a positive message, if it suits your brand.
- Foster a positive mindset in agents
A positive mindset makes for positive language use. It’s much easier to be upbeat and happy in your language when you feel upbeat and happy in your job role.
Positive language use – it’s how you say it
Positive language use holds a host of benefits in customer service. It’s more likely to elicit positive emotions and satisfied customers. It’s also more likely to induce co-operation from customers, rather than anger, abuse, and confrontation.
So, pay attention to how you say what you say in your customer service chats — it’ll boost your service from ‘not bad’ to ‘great!’.