Connection and power: how words define your relationship with customers

"Hey buddy,"

"Dear Mr King,"

"Most esteemed customer,"

"Hi Clara!"

Which of these greetings do you love best? Is there one you don't like at all?

That's probably because the relationship expressed in that greeting isn't one you're comfortable with. 

The two axes of customer relationships

We use language to define our relationship with each other in two ways:

1. How close or distant do I perceive us to be?

2. How equal or hierarchical is our relationship?

Deborah Tannen's relationship grid — taken from "Abduction, Dialogicality and Prior Text: The Taking on of Voices in Conversational Discourse." Plenary address at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Baltimore, MD, January 8, 2009.

Deborah Tannen's relationship grid — taken from "Abduction, Dialogicality and Prior Text: The Taking on of Voices in Conversational Discourse." Plenary address at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Baltimore, MD, January 8, 2009.

Deborah Tannen, one of my favourite linguists, came up with this grid. It's a useful tool to define your relationship with your customers: How close is your brand to your customers? Are you looking for respectful distance or constant interaction? And is your motto more "we're all in this together" or "We're in charge"?

Parents are in charge — they have a close but hierarchical relationship with their children. (source as above)

Parents are in charge — they have a close but hierarchical relationship with their children. (source as above)

Best friends are "in this together": close and equal. (source as above)

Best friends are "in this together": close and equal. (source as above)

Once you've located your brand on these axes, look at the words you use when you talk to customers. Place them on the grid too.

Do they support the relationship you want?

Over to you

What relationship are you after? Does language tend to get in the way? How?