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.

25 comments

  1. This episode didn’t only teach me more about customer communication. I also learned a lot more about different types of cultures and now I know that if I go to Italy, I wouldn’t dare to add in the “per favore” when asking for a coffee 😉

    Like

  2. I learnt a lot after listening to this podcast about how to be clear and polite when communicating with customers or B2B. This is an important factor when you don’t want to lose custmers. It is good to hear that humor is always accepted in communication.

    Like

  3. I really enjoyed this episode. I learnt a lot abou the different types of communication wwith customers and with businesses. Also I never thought about the different cultures within a country. Also handy to know to humor is always appreciated.

    Like

  4. This was a very interesting episode. As a customer, you don’t realise how difficult it is for a company to communicate with their customers. It’s not as easy as we think, especially when there are cultural differences as well. The examples of Spain and Italy were very relevant to this. I’m curious to hear the next episode about how the customers react to all of this.

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  5. Again a very interesting episode with clear examples. Communicating with people from different countries isn’t always easy but this is really helpful!

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  6. Thank you for another educational podcast. I learned a lot about cultural differences regarding language and politeness. I will be taking this into account the next time I communicate with someone who has a different cultural background then myself.

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  7. I learned a lot about cultural differences within countries regarding language and politeness. The interview was very interesting with both Jonathan and Jane.

    Like

  8. This was a very pleasant episode. I learned a lot about politeness and online communication with the customer. I found it very interesting to see the results of the hotel review study. Now I know that German people like to be addressed in English, French in French and Spanish people are happy with a couple words of Spanish.
    Thank you for this interesting episode!

    Like

  9. Thank you for this educational podcast. I really enjoyed learning about customer communication and politeness strategies. And will definitely be using the tips I learned on how to get the tone of my message right.

    Like

  10. Thank you for another wonderful episode. I never really thought about the work web chat agents have to do every single day. It must be extremely hard to talk to multiple people at the same time, and maybe even switch from your first to your second language while talking to them.

    Like

  11. Thank you for the interesting podcast. It was very interesting to hear about the different cultures. I learned a lot regarding the importance of language and politeness.

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  12. I enjoyed listening to this episode. There is indeed a difference between online communication and communicating in real life, and I learned a lot about this now. I know a lot more for perhaps future jobs in commerce! Thanks.

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  13. Thank you for again a very interesting podcast! It was nice to hear about the differences in cultures and between online and real-life communication with customers. The professor did a great job explaining his theory!

    Like

  14. Thank you for this interesting podcast! it assured me that I had the right view of how communication online is very different from the one in real life. Personally, I prefer the one in real life at least you know they understood you or you can see their facial expression. Am normally good in languages and communication, but sometimes my facial expression is not good, but I will work on this for my future self and my future job.

    Like

  15. It is interesting to see these cultural differences regarding languages. I’ll keep in mind to adress French people in their language…

    Like

  16. It was an eye-opener to see how difficult it is for a business to communicate online via chat instead of real-life communication. Also, very useful to know that there are cultural differences in politeness, something to take into account!

    Like

  17. It think its very diffcult for a buisiness to keep their customers happy, some customers ask for a lot more than what they are giving themself. It is interesting to see these cultural differences regarding languages. I didn’t know that the Italian don’t say “please” if they want something, I’ll keep that in mind.

    Like

  18. It is difficult for a company to figure out what would be the best way to talk to their costumers. Would it be better to use informal or formal language.

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  19. Thank you for this wonderful episode. Great to have two guests on here. As someone who has worked in customer service it’s interesting to see the theory behind what I experienced.

    Like

  20. It was very interesting to see how others see customer communication. After learning customer communications through a different person, i enjoyed being able to compare my past experience with the information given here.

    Like

  21. After hearing this podcast, it supported my opinion that there is still a massive cultural barrier. And sometimes it can lead to misunderstandings. Also I kind of knew that French people almost never do the effort to talk in another language when arriving as a guest. So very good of pointing that out.

    Like

  22. When I heard this podcast I definitely knew that costumes are very important and that communication with a customer can change and add a lot to your business.
    the 2 guesses had a wonderful compharisation between each other.
    It is always to have contact with your business or your company but most of the type it is not there and that a lot of people have issued getting together or talking together.
    I would like to thank the 2 guests that came here and told us more about the communication. Not only did I learn that about communication I also learn about different cultures.

    Like

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