A newly released study by the customer service company Zendesk shows that words can hurt. The survey reviewed information related to customer service and support operations from among 25,000 organizations and their clientele and found that the more frequently “sorry,” “please,” and “thank-you” peppered the response vocabulary of customer service agents, the angrier and more dissatisfied customers became.

According to the vice-president of products at Zendesk, Sam Boonin, “Our research shows that word choice and word frequency have a direct correlation with customer satisfaction.”

Furthermore, “We’ve found there are triggers around the word ‘sorry,’ and when used more than twice there is a problem brewing.”

The research showed that the perfunctory use of “sorry” elicited a faster drop in customer satisfaction than did “please” or “thank-you.” The proliferation of these words was usually the result of numerous back-and-forth exchanges and an increase in the time taken to resolve an issue during assistance requests by phone, email, or social media platform.

Said Boonin, “This [the frequency of certain keywords] can be a helpful indicator for companies to know when to escalate a ticket, avoiding an unhappy customer.”

In addition, closing a written customer service interaction with “Yours Sincerely” received a more favorable customer response that did “Best Wishes” or other phrases.

The study also found different relationships between customer satisfaction and the method of written contact. When an online form was used, the content was typically angrier and more hostile. In emails, content tended to be longer but customers were not as annoyed or as irritated.

Regarding web form communication, the authors of the study believe that “More likely, it’s an unhappy customer on a rant,” while “…with email…the length of the communication is not a predictor of that customer’s satisfaction.”

The survey also identified those industries with the best and worst customer service – IT services, education, government, and non-profits were at the top of the best service rankings, while social media, travel, hospitality, and tourism, and gaming and entertainment were at the bottom.


Brooks, Chad. “A Sorry Apology? Three Little Words Customers Tire of Hearing,” August, 20, 2014.