Summary of How Should Companies Talk to Customers Online?

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Customer service agents have taken to heart advice to say “you” as often as possible – and to eradicate using “I” – in the belief that these speech patterns are good for business. In this conventional wisdom–busting paper for the MIT Sloan Management Review, three Canadian marketing professors – Brent McFerrin, Sarah G. Moore and Grant Packard – overturn decades of customer service training by reporting on research that shows digital service agents’ use of the word “I” can significantly boost customer satisfaction and sales – while their use of “you” can backfire.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why digital customer service agents should be using “I” more and “you” less,
  • How boosting the use of “I” can improve customer satisfaction and sales, and
  • Which customer perceptions account for the success of these recommendations.

About the Authors

Canadian academics Brent McFerran, Sarah G. Moore and Grant Packard are associate professors of marketing at Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta and Wilfrid Laurier University, respectively.



Customer service speech has become significantly different from the language of everyday conversations: Service agents have taken on board advice to say “you” frequently and to avoid the word “I” at all costs. The words “you” and “we” appear in customer service settings at much higher rates than they do in normal speech. Agents are schooled to believe that these language habits increase customer satisfaction. But research on word use in digital customer service interactions shows otherwise: The conventional wisdom can produce unexpected effects and can even backfire.

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