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(I'm) happy to help (you): The impact of personal pronoun use in customer-firm interactions

Version 2 2024-06-06, 00:59
Version 1 2022-02-28, 08:52
journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-06, 00:59 authored by G Packard, SG Moore, Brent McFerranBrent McFerran
In responding to customer questions or complaints, should marketing agents linguistically “put the customer first” by using certain personal pronouns? Customer orientation theory, managerial literature, and surveys of managers, customer service representatives, and consumers suggest that firm agents should emphasize how “we” (the firm) serve “you” (the customer), while de-emphasizing “I” (the agent) in these customer–firm interactions. The authors find evidence of this language pattern in use at over 40 firms. However, they theorize and demonstrate that these personal pronoun emphases are often suboptimal. Five studies using lab experiments and field data reveal that firm agents who refer to themselves using “I” rather than “we” pronouns increase customers’ perceptions that the agent feels and acts on their behalf. In turn, these positive perceptions of empathy and agency lead to increased customer satisfaction, purchase intentions, and purchase behavior. Furthermore, the authors find that customer-referencing “you” pronouns have little impact on these outcomes and can sometimes have negative consequences. These findings enhance understanding of how, when, and why language use affects social perception and behavior and provide valuable insights for marketers.

History

Journal

Journal of Marketing Research

Volume

55

Pagination

541-555

Location

London, Eng.

ISSN

0022-2437

eISSN

1547-7193

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Issue

4

Publisher

SAGE Publications

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