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Easy on the emojis – Why consumers don’t want a bestie in their shopping chat

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Maxx-Studio)

There’s no denying the fact that the internet has changed the way we speak. Look at social media in particular and you’ll see emojis, gifs, hashtags and newly created words that were born out of a specific form of communication online. And although brands followed the suit of today’s consumers in the way they talk to customers, it appears they’re getting it all wrong.

Here’s something that might surprise you. Consumers don’t actually like brands to be casual and overly familiar with them in their communication style. They prefer professionalism, and yes, that even means on social media.

The way a company interacts with its customers can make or break the ability to build brand loyalty. Even if the product they buy is perfect, it can be let down by a sub-par customer experience when selecting and delivering the product. After all, chances are there are a million sites selling the same thing. The key battle ground will be the experience that shoppers have in buying it from you.

On average, customer satisfaction is dropping - down 2.2 per cent over the past five years according to Zendesk research, while customer expectations are increasing. Getting the tone of your communication right will help line up customer expectations with the service they are receiving.

What’s more, a new study by Zendesk has found that 79 per cent of British consumers want brands to communicate with professionalism. Even among consumers who felt that humour was important for brand interaction, 76 per cent said they wanted to feel like they were talking to a professional. Yet, only 21 per cent of British consumers wanted brand interaction to feel like they were talking to a friend.

Something isn’t quite right here. Shoppers are calling out for a type of consumer interaction that they aren’t currently receiving. Why? Because brands are sticking to the conventions of the individual communication channels rather than listening and adapting their styles to what their customers would prefer – and more importantly, expect.

Changing channels

When considering the types of communication channels consumers are using to communicate with a brand, there’s a certain perception that different communication channels require different styles of conversation.

For example, at one end of the spectrum you have email and phone, which are both generally assumed to be professional forms of communication. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s messenger apps and social media, which are assumed to be the more informal way to communicate. While that may be true for most things, when it comes to communication with brands, the differentiation isn’t as stark. Irrespective of the channel, customers want brands to talk back to them in a professional manner.

As part of our research, we carried out social listening analysis to accurately gauge the conversation taking place between consumers and brands. This included the use of an AI tool to analyse text and produce a personality output. We then compared the personalities and tone of voices displayed by various brands online. We found that the brands we researched all showed high agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness when replying to customers. They all came across as helpful cooperative and polite.

But that’s not enough for the customers we spoke to. They expect brands to be professional but at the same time sound human. And 55 per cent of respondents felt humour and gifs were unimportant – an approach used by many brands.

What we’re seeing leading many businesses down the wrong path is the fact that in many cases, consumers talk to brands in an informal way, often including the use of emojis. However, our social listening of customers ‘@’ mentioning brands found that casual language was common. Their expectation however, isn’t to get the same tone in the types of responses received.

Steps forward

So where can brands right the ship and be more closely aligned to the expectations of their customers? Firstly, it is important that they focus on maintaining a consistent tone of voice across channels. Around half of consumers who interact with brands online say this is important, but brands don’t currently do this. Our personality analyses show that a brand’s tone of voice is platform dependent. By achieving consistency across all platforms, it becomes easier to plan, manage and produce the professional tone of voice that consumers prefer.

But in the quest to become more professional in tone, it’s also important to maintain the identity of your brand that makes it unique. Some 62 per cent of people who interact with brands publicly and privately on social media think it’s very important to feel like they are speaking to a human. Brands should note that professional doesn’t mean impersonal.

Additionally, with the increasing use of AI in customer interaction through chatbots, customers want to feel like they are talking with a person, even when they are talking to a robot. There’s a chance they may be turned off if their customer service conversations don’t feel natural.

Although the temptation may be great, brands shouldn’t get trigger happy with the smileys when talking to customers online. It’s imperative to get a feel for your customer base and communicate in a way that they like, instead of force-feeding them your own preferences. But the most important thing is to keep communicating, and do so in a timely way.

Customers highly rate brands that keep them in the loop and make them feel appreciated. Communications channels will come and go but the one consistent is the ability to value your customers and communicate in a way that proves you do.

Daniel Bailey, Head of North West Europe, Zendesk