Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - July 11, 2018

The Power of "I"

Imagine you have a potential new customer, one with whom you have been working to develop a credit application. Eventually you have all the information you need to begin analysis, so you conclude the conversation with something like this:

"It looks like we have the information we need to come to a decision. We'll take a little time to analyze the data you have given us, and we'll get back to you promptly with our decision and recommendations. We appreciate your choosing us to work with, thank you for coming in."

There's nothing wrong with that. But you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that changing a few words in those closing comments could have a significant impact on how your customer feels about doing business with you.

Specifically, changing "we" to "I" in these kinds of statements gives customers more confidence that their needs are being addressed. Indeed, even as many institutions promote the use of "we" as part of their emphasis on teamwork, they might want to consider how the use of "I" can enhance their relationships with customers.

This isn't idle theorizing. In a blog post titled "How Can We, Really I, Help You?", Chris Nichols of Centerstate Bank summarizes the results of a series of experiments with these kinds of statements. (Details on the study, with multiple authors from multiple universities, can be gleaned from the original post, referenced below.) The lead author of the study, Dr. Grant Packard, observed that talking to customers "in a team-focused way" seems to be "completely backwards."

Through a variety of experiments, and analysis of e-mails and text interactions, they found that customers who heard "I" more often were more confident that their issues were being handled. This probably jives with your own experience. I know I'd rather hear, "will call you" than "We will get back to you" (much less, "Someone will contact you"). That "I' gives me someone to hold accountable.

The research even showed that employees who used "I' more often generated greater sales revenue!

Sure, teamwork is important in our industry. But that is an internal matter, within your institution.

Your customer is less interested in your team -- at least, until your team lets something fall between the cracks and generates more hassle than help -- than they are in knowing who is going to make sure they get the service they are looking for. They want someone to take personal responsibility, and that's not "we".

The research also indicated that it can be hard to break the "we" habit, especially when there may have been a significant effort to build that very habit to promote teamwork. But separating internal vs. external language, knowing when to use "we" and when to use "I", just might give you a leg up in customer satisfaction over your rivals.