Some customer support situations call for tact. Others, empathy. And all require the support agent to make the customer feel heard, and like their needs are in good hands.
In customer service, there are several communication strategies that agents can call upon — from empathy statements to various questioning types. One such communication technique is the use of “I statements”.
So, where does the power of I statements lie when supporting customers?
What are I statements?
I statements are statements that (typically) begin with ‘I’. They put the speaker at the centre of the point being made.
Not every sentence that begins with ‘I’ is an I statement. Rather, to be an I statement, the message must convey the feelings, viewpoints, or beliefs of the speaker.
“I” vs “you”
Contrasting with the I statement is the ‘you’ statement. You statements generally begin with the word ‘you’, and so tend to be more accusatory.
Comparing the two is a good way to truly begin to understand the power of I statements, as they can completely change the tone of the message — without losing the meaning.
“You are interrupting me and not letting me help you.”
“I will do my best to help you, but I need you to answer these questions so I can get to the root of the issue.”
The power of I statements
I statements convey three key elements from the speaker. These are assertiveness, empathy, and responsibility. And all are powerful in customer support interactions.
I statements are an oft-touted tool for creating assertiveness. (Without, crucially, eliciting defensiveness from the listener.) In customer support, assertiveness helps to create a sense of confidence. The agent knows what to do and can confidently guide the customer to a resolution.
I statements humanise the agent. They’re not cold or robotic — they convey feelings and viewpoints. When used they remind the customers that there’s a thinking, feeling human on the other side of their screen, or the other end of their phone.
Plus, because I statements are a way to assert the feelings of the speaker, they can be used to convey empathy to upset customers. As such, many empathy statements are also I statements.
Using I statements can also show that the agent is taking on the responsibility of solving a problem. They’re not passing it off to someone else, they’re engaging with the customer to offer the best support.
Disagreeing with customers
Sometimes, the customer you’re supporting is mistaken. Contrary to the popular saying, the customer is not always right, and there are times where agents need to (respectfully) disagree with them.
I statements are a powerful tool when it comes to disagreeing with customers. This is because they avoid placing blame on the customer for being mistaken — something which tends to lead to defensive behaviour.
Calm over-emotional customers
Another powerful use of I statements is to calm — and manage — customers whose emotions are getting the better of them.
For upset customers, I statements can be used to demonstrate empathy. Agents can share their feelings or viewpoints to show that they align with the customer’s. In turn, this helps the customer feel listened to and understood.
For angry customers, meanwhile, the humanising element of I statements can help remind the customer that there’s a human on the other side of the communication channel. (And so, they need to make sure their messages are appropriate.) It can be easy to forget you’re speaking to another person when you can’t see them.
I statements are a great conflict resolution tool. They provide a way to convey viewpoints and feelings without using inflammatory language or escalating a situation.
The power of I statements
To sum, I statements are a handy conversational technique used in conflict resolution, relationship building, and customer support.
By starting your sentences with “I”, you demonstrate assertiveness, empathy, and responsibility to the customers listening to your words. (Without an accusatory tone.)
So, are your customer service team effectively using I statements?