The importance of understanding language in customer service

Published on: September 07, 2016
Author: Chris Eideh - North American Sales Executive

People use a whole range of different words to refer to your products – many will differ from those words that your organization uses internally. For example, research found that there are 57 names for the humble TV remote control, including the flipper, the changer and even the doofangle. And this is before you factor in abbreviations or dialect!

This wide range of language can create problems when consumers try to hold product conversations with your employees. Imagine if someone emails you to complain that their flipper has gone wrong – would you understand them? Forcing them to use your terminology or asking them to repeat themselves can cause service and experience rifts.

Yet at the same time it is difficult to know what they want, leading to an understanding gap between you and your customers, making conversations disjointed and unhelpful. This is even worse on digital channels, such as the web. Unlike on real-time channels such as the phone, your agents can’t ask immediate clarifying questions to better understand the meaning of what customers want.

So how can you make sure that your customer service is able to cope with the range of terms that consumers use? There are three things to focus on:

1. Centralize your knowledge
Many companies still rely on different information sources for each individual channel. In some cases, these are still paper-based, meaning they are out of date almost as soon as they are printed. Invest in a single, centralized knowledge base that spans all of your channels. This will allow for easy, accurate and instant answers for consumers via web self-service, and also by employees answering consumer questions on the phone, email, chat or social media channels. This creates a process where information can readily be updated, changed and delivered to employees and consumers alike.

Make sure that the interface to your knowledge base is easy to use by both consumers on the web and employees in the contact center. It needs to be smart enough to quickly understand language differences. You can achieve this by implementing knowledge management software based on linguistics, the scientific study of language. This allows the system to better understand what customers want by adding in factors such as tone and context, even if the words they use to describe your product are unique to them.

2. Keep learning
Language never stands still and neither should you. Expressions go in and out of usage, jump from generation to generation and even change their meaning. Services become verbs – we Google or Uber rather than search or hail a cab for example. Therefore, make sure that your knowledge base is self-learning and able to keep up. It should be able to act on feedback from customers, such as when they rate the answers they receive through their channel of choice and refine the responses it gives to ensure that they best match what the customer was actually asking.

3. Listen to your agents
Customer service agents are in continual conversation with consumers, and they have a great insight into what the latest terms or words are that are used for your products and services. At the same time, they are consumers themselves, so have their own insight into the vocabulary that people actually use, rather than the names you use within the business. Give them the opportunity to provide feedback on the answers within your knowledge base, and encourage their participation by rewarding the most industrious.

Focusing on language allows you to break down the barriers between your organization and its customers, reach a bigger audience – helping you to have meaningful conversations that drive deep engagement with consumers, whatever they call your products.

Tags: language, linguistics, Customer Service, agents, contact center, Eptica, self-service, Customer experience, Consumer, Knowledge, knowledge management, digital
Categories: Best Practice

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