ServiceFriday: Communicating with Customers: Are You Using the Best Method?

– Written by Natalie Both for the Center for Services Leadership

The way you convey a message often has more of an effect than the message itself. When we give presentations or speeches, we know that the way we dress, our facial expressions, and our overall confidence are important in captivating an audience. This is just as important in the service industry as well, especially when informing a customer about new innovations, which can lead to a decrease in customer loyalty if not communicated properly. Although a variety of methods have been examined in the past, new research has been conducted on the benefits of two specific methods of expression: metaphor and narrative.

In an article published in the Journal of Business Research, the authors provide an in-depth analysis of these two methods, in an attempt to provide insight for service companies wishing to inform their customers about an innovative service. They provide the following definition for a metaphor: “A metaphor is a type of rhetorical figure, which refers to an artful deviation in the form taken by a statement. The rhetorical figure of metaphor specifically juxtaposes two concepts and asks consumers to compare the two concepts or objects and infer what they have in common.” Metaphors are very common in advertising, such as the headline: “Our resort in Jamaica will fly you to the moon.” From this phrase, a customer can imagine herself enjoying an unforgettable experience at this resort.

In comparison, a narrative is “an account of an event or a sequence of events leading to a transition from an initial state to a later state or outcome involving consumers.” They provide a “story as a foundation and include characters, a setting, a plot, and a time frame.”

Metaphors and narratives differ in how they affect the way customers process information, but they both allow for “sense-making” and “engagement,” which can lead to a better overall understanding of what can be gained from an innovation. Although both methods can be effective, the studies indicated that metaphors are the safest means to communicate a service innovation to a customer. Metaphors can make “abstract offerings” or “intangible services” appear more concrete, and when customers perceive a service as tangible, it can reduce their perceptions of risk.

Customers tend to be wary of service innovations, so understanding which message style is best in certain situations is essential for managers to best communicate the benefits of new services.

To read the full article visit the Journal of Service Research at this link. (A fee may apply.)

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