Over Apologizing Can Spell Lower Customer Satisfaction



Customer satisfaction drops as customer service agents more frequently use apologetic or polite vocabulary in a conversation, while customers benefit by being polite themselves, according to findings of a recently released quarterly Zendesk Benchmark report.

The report took a close look at the behavioral cues of customers and agents to better understand how these correlate with increased or decreased customer satisfaction. The report evaluated the effect of "sorry," "please," and "thank you," in public comments by agents on customer satisfaction. In all three cases, customer satisfaction decreases with increased use of these words. With increasing usage of "sorry," satisfaction drops at a much faster rate versus using the expressions, "thank you" or "please." The increased usage may indicate interactions with those words require multiple back and forth steps, as well as longer resolution times.

Other Key Findings

  • Valediction: Interactions with the sign off "Best Wishes," in comparison to "Best Regards," "Cheers" and "Yours Sincerely," have a lower customer satisfaction score between 11-14 percentage points.
  • Word Count: A wordier request for help in an online form leads to lower customer satisfaction, but in email customers can be long-winded with little effect on their satisfaction. In a Web form, customer requests with 150 to 200 words in the initial description end up with 10 percent lower satisfaction scores than those where the initial description is only one to 50 words. There is no significant difference between satisfaction and those word counts with email.
  • Email Address: Users of Yahoo email provide the lowest customer satisfaction scores at 75.4 percent, significantly lower than .Mac users at 84.6 percent.


“Our research shows that word choice and word frequency have a direct correlation with customer satisfaction,” said Sam Boonin, vice president of products at Zendesk and research lead on the Zendesk Benchmark report, in a statement. “We’ve found there are triggers around the word ‘sorry’, and when used more than twice there is a problem brewing. This can be a helpful indicator for companies to know when to escalate a ticket, avoiding an unhappy customer.”