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How concrete language can change behaviour

Want an inexpensive way to bolster customer satisfaction and sell more? Use concrete language.

That was the finding from “How Concrete Language Shapes Customer Satisfaction” (2020) by Grant Packard and Jonah Berger.

In the study, Packard and Berger tested whether referring to items using abstract (e.g. “pants”) vs. concrete (e.g. “blue jeans”) descriptors impacted satisfaction, willingness to buy and purchase behaviour.

Abstract language is the realm of the conceptual or intangible, like a waiter asking a patron if they “want anything to drink?”

Concreteness refers to something using specifics, making it seem more real and familiar, like a waiter asking a patron whether they “would like a coffee?”

The hypothesis was that concrete language would signal listening and attentiveness and tap into what the consumer was imagining in their mind. This would drive engagement; a kind of symbiosis or proof point that you are on the same wavelength.

In the first study the researchers looked at satisfaction by analysing 200 audio recordings of customer service calls.

Customers were more satisfied when more concrete language was used. Increasing concreteness by 5.6% increased satisfaction by 8.9%.

But what about email? Here the researchers analysed 941 customer service emails and tracked subsequent customer purchase behaviour. In emails where employees used more concrete language, customers ended up spending 30% more.

Across a total of seven studies Packard and Berger found that “whether dealing with a problem or searching for a product, speaking or writing more concretely increased customer satisfaction, purchase intentions, and actual purchase behaviour.”

When didn’t it work? When the concrete response wasn’t relevant to the needs of the customer.

Making your language concrete

So, what are some concrete examples of concrete language? “I can fix that engine issue” rather than “I can try to solve that engine issue”, and “You will receive your money back shortly” rather than “you will receive your refund shortly”.

Table 4 from "How Concrete Language Shapes Customer Satisfaction

What I love about this research and other findings from behavioural science is the simplicity of application.

This is not about employing a whole new team of salespeople, building a new product, creating new policies or launching an expensive marketing campaign.


It’s about doing what you are already doing but doing it better.

Small tweaks, significant results.

Time for a language audit? 

Or more concretely, would you like me to fix that conversion issue for you?



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Image from https://pixabay.com/photos/ace-cards-jeans-blue-pocket-390041/ 


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