Ask any journalist, novelist, editor, or event speaker — language matters. Which words you use, and how you choose to relay them, can dramatically alter the way your audience interprets your message.
The added challenge for customer service pros is that their audience can change with every new interaction.
Even if all their customers shared the same native language, factors like local dialects, cultural idioms, and personal preferences would still create infinite variations. Additionally, the same customer may communicate in different ways depending on the scenario they face or the channel they choose.
So how can you improve your odds of finding the right words when the next issue arises? Here are a few moves that can sharpen the customer service language at any company.
Follow Their Lead (At First)
When you’re trying to connect with a customer, the first rule is to avoid creating more distance between you two. That seems obvious to say, but as customer service pros, we’re often guilty of this when we accidentally use confusing terminology and unnecessary jargon. We widen the knowledge gap when we should be working to close it.
At Aircall, for example, our technical support team relies on “UUIDs” to identify and isolate specific calls for further investigation. If we let that acronym slip when speaking to our customers, though, the conversation usually comes to a halt. (The attempted shortcut actually takes a longer path to get back on track.)
So what’s the best way to steer clear of these frustrating detours? Focus on framing your responses from the customer’s perspective.
What was the customer journey that led them to you? Which pain points did they experience along the way? What goal are they ultimately trying to accomplish? Learning those answers and mixing them into your own language will immediately make your message more effective.
Better yet, you can use the recurring issues and themes from these conversations to proactively create self-service resources.
Start a Public Library
The logic behind building public knowledgebases or FAQ sections is simple: If you give customers the resources to resolve their own issues, then they will submit fewer support requests. Invest a little extra energy to get this strategy started, and get rewarded with significantly less strain on your team in the future.
There’s another advantage to consider, though. Even when self-service resources can’t quite resolve a certain issue, they can still inform the conversation.
The way you write a FAQ page, for example, can give customers all kinds of clues on how to best communicate with you. Maybe they learn a new phrase that describes exactly what they are experiencing. Or maybe your style lets them know more about the team’s personality.
At Aircall, for example, customers unable to connect to a number they dial sometimes fear that their phone app is broken. By proactively detailing all the different reasons a number might not be reachable, though, we’ve been able to avoid panic and inform next steps.
Every linguistic hint can help customers feel less like a stranger to your product and people. So it’s best to give them a vocabulary they can borrow before confusion and frustration sets in.
Test, Analyze, Improve (Repeat)
Committing to improving your customer service language is a critical gesture, but you need to back it up with ways to measure real progress.
Your linguistic “quality assurance” system could be as manual as appointing an internal reviewer to critically read through conversation transcripts, or it could be as sophisticated as employing artificial intelligence tools across all your company communications. The end goal is to identify examples of ineffective customer service language and locate the underlying cause.
Is one topic consistently a source of confusion for your team? Maybe specialized training or updated documentation is the solution.
Is there a section on a certain sales page consistently giving customers the wrong expectations for your product? Maybe a feedback session involving multiple departments is in order.
Once you start analyzing your own customer service language with a critical eye, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the potential areas for improvement. But by focusing on gradual but continuous progress, it won’t be long before you start to hear more customer conversations hitting all the right notes.