PhotoBy the time you’re frustrated enough to give customer service a call, being nice may be the last thing on your mind. But choosing your words carefully could help improve the quality of service you get.

Callers who refrain from taking out their aggression on customer service employees often experience a smoother conversation and better service, a study from the University of British Columbia Okanagan found.

After analyzing over 30 hours of calls between customers and call center representives, faculty of management assistant professor David Walker and his colleagues found that callers who used positive words were more likely to receive better service.

But when callers used second person pronouns (such as “you” and “your”) and interrupted the employee, customer service worsened in more than 35% of calls. The research suggests that having a little compassion toward stressed-out employees can go a long way.

Focus on the problem

Instead of saying “your company is the worst” or “I’m getting ready to sue you,” keep the conversation focused on the product or service. Doing so, Walker says, can result in better service.

By mixing positive language (like great and fine) into the conversation, customers can alleviate some the stress that service employees often experience on the job. An employee who isn’t the target of aggressive words or phrases is less likely to have a negative reaction, the researchers said.

"In general, when customers use aggressive words or phrases to personally target customer service employees, or when they interrupt the person they are talking to, we found that the employee's negative reaction is much stronger," said study co-author Danielle van Jaarsveld, associate professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

Incivility breeds incivility

The study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was one of the first to show that using specific words can undermine the quality of service that a customer gets.

"Employees can handle a lot, but when aggressive language and interruptions happen together -- combined with minimal positive language from the customer -- employees get to a point where customer service quality suffers,” said Walker, who is a former call center worker himself.

“Customers need to remember that they're dealing with human beings,” he concluded.

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