Episode 4: Talking to customers

In the first part of the episode, we talk about what constitutes appropriate communication with customers. Veronika mentions the example of Marriott hotels using a messaging app to enable people to book hotel rooms with a thumbs-up emoji and wonders whether that is too informal for an upmarket hotel chain. Linguists and communication scholars are increasingly interested in emojis, too:

Danesi, M. (2016). The Semiotics of Emoji: The rise of visual language in the age of the internet. London: Bloomsbury.

Seargeant, P. (2019). The Emoji Revolution: How technology is shaping the future of communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In this episode, we have a surprise guest, Dr Jane Lockwood, who shares with us some of her experiences as a consultant working with call centre and web chat staff in South East Asia. You can find out more about the company she founded here: https://www.futureperfect.com/

We then move on to the use of different languages when interacting with customers. Here are the two studies that Bernard mentions, on what hotel guests say about being addressed by staff in the customer’s own language, and how customers give more generous tips when addressed in their native language:

Goethals, P. (2015). Multilingualism and international tourism: A content- and discourse-based approach to language-related judgments in web 2.0 hotel reviews. Language and Intercultural Communication, 16(2), 235-253.

Van Vaerenbergh, Y., & Holmqvist, J. (2013). Speak my language if you want my money: Service language’s influence on consumer tipping behavior. European Journal of Marketing, 47(8), 1276-1292.

Veronika makes the point that service encounters need to combine meeting transactional goals – e.g. buying ham at a delicatessen – with building rapport, e.g. chatting about an upcoming dinner party. The following are a detailed academic study of service encounters and an overview of the role of (im)politeness in them, respectively:

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2015). The Language of Service Encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reiter, R. M., & Bou-Franch, P. (2017). (Im)politeness in service encounters. In Culpeper, J., Haugh, M., & Kádár, D. Z. (Eds.). The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)politeness. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 661-687.

To conclude the first part, we talk about creativity and humour when communicating with customers. Here is the tweet exchange between Samsung and one of its customers:

Moving on to the interview, our guest, Professor Jonathan Culpeper, mentions a study he did on cultural differences in politeness within England:

Culpeper, J., & Gillings, M. (2018). Politeness variation in England: A north-south divide? In Brezina, V., Love, R., & Aijmer, K. (Eds.). Corpus Approaches to Contemporary British Speech: Sociolinguistic studies of the Spoken BNC2014. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 33-59.

During the interview, Veronika mentions an example from Erika’s and her text book, an exchange between supermarket chain Tesco and another Twitter user:

In the third and final part of the episode, we analyse an example of business-to-business communication, more specifically a company’s reply to a customer asking for a refund. Here is the email in question (all spellings as in the original):

Good afternoon <first name>,

In December we have received two master cylinders back from you. They were returned to us under warranty.

A technician has now checked and tested these two cylinders and I’m afraid I have to inform you that the two warranty claims have been rejected.

On both of the units he has found that the cups are swollen and / or damaged . He’s convinced that this is ‘not’ because of a faulty component (cups/seals) . He says that this damage can be caused by the use of the wrong or poluted oil , or the use of solvent ( e.g. cleaning products ) . Because of the damage to the cups the cylinder starts leaking and the pressure reduces. I’m afraid this cannot be considered as valid warranty conditions and therefore we will not be able to issue a credit for the two parts.

If you want we can return both units with a future shipment ?

Below you can find a few pictures and all the necessary information on the parts.

If you have any questions , please don’t hestitate to contact me.

Best regards,

<first name>

The example is taken from Bernard’s recent work:

De Clerck, B., Decock, S., Vandenberghe, J., & Seghers, M. (2019). Theory versus practice. A closer look at transactional and interpersonal stance in English electronic complaint refusal notifications. English Text Construction, 12(1), 103-136.

Finally, the 2010 study mentioned by Erika is

Jansen, F., & Janssen, D. (2010). Effects of positive politeness strategies in business letters. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(9), 2531-2548.

Listen to the episode here

Full transcription of the episode

References and Further Reading

Danesi, M. (2016). The Semiotics of Emoji: The rise of visual language in the age of the internet. London: Bloomsbury.

Seargeant, P. (2019). The Emoji Revolution: How technology is shaping the future of communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goethals, P. (2015). Multilingualism and international tourism: A content- and discourse-based approach to language-related judgments in web 2.0 hotel reviews. Language and Intercultural Communication, 16(2), 235-253.

Van Vaerenbergh, Y., & Holmqvist, J. (2013). Speak my language if you want my money: Service language’s influence on consumer tipping behavior. European Journal of Marketing, 47(8), 1276-1292.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2015). The Language of Service Encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reiter, R. M., & Bou-Franch, P. (2017). (Im)politeness in service encounters. In Culpeper, J., Haugh, M., & Kádár, D. Z. (Eds.). The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)politeness. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 661-687.

Culpeper, J., & Gillings, M. (2018). Politeness variation in England: A north-south divide? In Brezina, V., Love, R., & Aijmer, K. (Eds.). Corpus Approaches to Contemporary British Speech: Sociolinguistic studies of the Spoken BNC2014. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 33-59.

De Clerck, B., Decock, S., Vandenberghe, J., & Seghers, M. (2019). Theory versus practice. A closer look at transactional and interpersonal stance in English electronic complaint refusal notifications. English Text Construction, 12(1), 103-136.

Jansen, F., & Janssen, D. (2010). Effects of positive politeness strategies in business letters. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(9), 2531-2548.

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