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 deemphasizing “I” (the agent) in these customer-firm interactions. We find evidence of this language pattern in use at over 40 firms. However, we theorize and demonstrate that these personal pronoun emphases are often sub-optimal. Five studies using lab experiments and field data reveal that firm agents who refer to themselves using “I” rather than “we” pronouns increase customer 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. Further, we find that customer-referencing “you” pronouns have little impact on these outcomes, and can sometimes have negative consequences. These findings enhance our understanding of how, when, and why language use impacts social perception and behavior, and provide valuable insights for marketers.
Packard, Grant, Sarah G. Moore, and Brent McFerran. “(I’m) Happy to Help (You): The Impact of Personal Pronoun Use In Customer-Firm Interactions,” Journal of Marketing Research. 55(4), 2018. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmr.16.0118
Journal of Marketing Research
(I’m) Happy to Help (You): The Impact of Personal Pronoun Use In Customer-Firm Interactions
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