Take a second and think about a time when you were trying to make plans with a friend. Let’s say you sent them a text asking if they wanted to get dinner together on Friday night. What you don’t know yet, is that they are traveling for work, and won’t return until Saturday. Below are two possible responses you could receive.

  1. Sorry, I’m out of town Friday.
  2. I’m free on Saturday evening, if that works alright for you.

While the first response is the truth, it feels like they aren’t even remotely interested in getting dinner! The second response, while not able to accommodate the original ask, feels like they are excited to get dinner with you, and are working with you to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. Both responses mean you won’t be getting dinner with your friend  on Friday evening, but you are in a very different head space depending on which one you received. This is a simple example of how positive language is a powerful tool. Its presence, or lack thereof, can quickly change the way you and your customers perceive any interaction. We subconsciously pick up on these differences in normal conversation, and  behavioral science makes a compelling case for prioritizing positive language.

In a study done by cognitive neuroscience expert Luis Castellanos, he found that when we hear positive words, we immediately become more attentive, more creative, and have a higher perseverance in relation to all kinds of tasks. Alternatively, when we hear or say negative words, our brains release stress and anxiety-inducing hormones.

Think about all of the potential disgruntled or stressed customers that contact your organization. The fact that small differences in wording can alter someone’s attitude, emotional response, and even likelihood for perseverance within 30 seconds of interacting with one of your reps, definitely puts a different lens on how important language truly is. By adjusting the way we consistently think about and use language, we can dramatically improve all of those interactions. Improvinga customer’s outlook and perseverance, even slightly, can help get them through whatever difficult situation they may be encountering in a more positive manner and mindset. At the end of the day, we maximize our chances at making the customer feel like they had a low effort experience, even if we couldn’t actually change what they had to do. That is the true power of positive language.

In daily conversation, we often find ourselves using common phrases like “unfortunately, I can’t do that, that won’t work, etc.” because they are the truth. I can say from experience, it truly takes effort to move away from phrases and words we are so accustomed to using on a daily basis. It isn’t as simple as flipping a switch! When trying to think about the best way to start shifting away from these types of phrases in an interaction with a customer, it helps to first think and talk about what you can do, instead of what you can’t do. In the example above, even though the friend can’t make it to dinner on Friday night, they lead with the fact that they are able to do dinner on Saturday night, instead of simply saying that Friday won’t work. Starting with the positive, even if it isn’t necessarily what the customer might have asked for, frames the conversation in a positive light from the start. The primary focus is on solving their issue by any means possible, rather than telling them all the reasons you can’t give them exactly what they want.

This idea comes with one common objection: “Well, what if we just can’t give them what they are asking for?” Focusing on positive language doesn’t mean that we will never  tell a customer “no,” because sometimes, we simply can’t give them exactly what they want. Making a shift to more positive language means that by changing the way we approach the conversation and leading with what we can do for them, we have the power to dramatically improve the way the customer feels about that interaction.

Through Challenger’s research, we know that how a customer feels about an interaction makes up 2/3 of their perceived effort, whereas what they actually have to do only makes up 1/3 of their perceived effort. Positive language has the power to dramatically impact the feel side, which has the majority of the impact on overall customer effort. As part of our research, Challenger ran an A/B test where participants for the study were read one of two different types of responses to a customer issue. You can see the customer issue, the two different responses, and the impact of using positive language below.

At the end of the day both groups were told they had to do the same thing to resolve the issue. By prioritizing positive language, rep response B was viewed as a higher quality, lower effort experience for the customer. We have always been told that words are powerful, but a simple change in mindset can set your reps up for a more successful interaction with your customers, right from the start.

Nick Furman

Nick Furman is a Senior Client Associate at Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team. In his role, Nick helps implement several tailored product offerings designed to help companies grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort service organizations.