Updated: May 27, 2020
Should you use “I” or “We” when you deal directly with customers or clients on behalf of your organization? This is important because a company’s choice of pronouns can affect a customer’s experience and whether it will lead to a purchase. The latest research used word analysis of interactions with customers to evaluate if organizations can give better service through the pronouns they use by phone or email with customers. Word analysis is more reliable than asking people to document what they are thinking or feeling because self-reporting is poorly related to real world behaviors.
In the experiment, Sarah Moore, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Alberta in Canada, sent ‘customer’ emails to a random sample of the top 100 online retailers and found 40% used the pronoun “We”, as in “We’re happy to help you.” Her research found the customer would be happier if the customer service representative used “I” because it suggests the rep personally feels empathetic towards the customer and acts to help them. It shows the rep is attempting to understand the problem, feels for the customer, takes responsibility for what happened and is empowered to respond. In the Knowledge @Wharton newsletter of 16 February 2018, she said: ‘I’ pronouns increase the customer’s satisfaction with the representative and increase purchase intentions with the firm.” “We” is a plural pronoun and can be interpreted consciously or subconsciously as being the representative’s way of dodging personal accountability, so it is better to avoid “We” when “I” can be used effectively instead.