(I’m) Happy to Help (You): The Impact of Personal Pronoun Use In Customer-Firm Interactions

Resource type
Date created
2018-02-13
Authors/Contributors
Abstract
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.
Document
Identifier
DOI: 10.1509/jmr.16.0118
Published as
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
Publication title
Journal of Marketing Research
Document title
(I’m) Happy to Help (You): The Impact of Personal Pronoun Use In Customer-Firm Interactions
Date
2018
Volume
55
Issue
4
Publisher DOI
10.1509/jmr.16.0118
Copyright statement
Copyright is held by the author(s).
Scholarly level
Peer reviewed?
Yes
Language
Member of collection
Attachment Size
jmr.16.0118.pdf 1.3 MB