There was a time when smiley faces were viewed as childish and unprofessional in business communications, but things are changing. A recent study at Penn University showed that use of emoji’s increased customer satisfaction by 78% compared to plain text. 🙂

Emoji’s are winning customers over more than words and wise customer service agents are incorporating them into communications. Does that mean you use a smiley face at the end of every sentence or with every customer?  Well no, because using emoji’s is not about being cute, it’s about connecting on a more human level.

Empathy and emoji’s

More than anything else customers want to be understood. If they are tired or frustrated, they don’t want sympathy, they want someone to relate to how they feel. Talking on the phone this can be achieved by altering the tone of your voice, but in written online communications this is much more difficult to convey – particularly if there’s a limit to the number of characters or words that can be used. Sometimes a factual sentence can be read as being uncaring rather than direct, especially if the customer is already upset. For example:

“Sorry our phone lines are down at present.” Versus: “Sorry our phone lines are down at present 🙁

The words are identical, but somehow the second one seems less harsh. After reading the first sentence my response was “Oh great, what now?” But in the second sentence I don’t feel quite so alone. The little sad face communicates that yes the phone lines are down and they know I won’t be happy about it, but they also know how I feel, and they aren’t happy about it either.

This is where the power of the emoji lies, it provides a visual tool to communicate empathy. It can soften a statement and add more of a human voice to the written communications.

Channels best suited for emoji’s

With widespread use of text, instant messaging platforms and social media these days customers are increasingly familiar with using emoji’s. Facebook recently added emoji’s as a way to react to posts. Whereas before you could only “like” a post now you can “love it” have smiley face, sad face or an angry face, among others.

Social media, live chat and text messaging tend to be less formal and are therefore more suited to using emoji’s than email. Even so, they should be used sparingly and appropriately in customer service. Think of emoji’s as a puppy all eager to play and please. Some people will love them and welcome the puppy as he jumps up to greet them, others will just get annoyed by him being so boisterous. It’s the same with emoji’s, not everyone likes them and you shouldn’t assume because you’re chatting on social media or live chat that it’s okay to use them.

A good measure is to first gauge the customer’s mood by their tone and language. If they are angry or upset, avoid emoji’s altogether. You really don’t want to aggravate them even more. First establish a rapport with the person and mirror their style of language. As you chat or when you end a conversation an emoji may be appropriate, for example:

Agent: “Tammy, your account is now active, is there anything else I can help you with?”   

Customer: “Thank you, that’s all, you’re a star! 🙂

Agent: “It’s a pleasure 🙂 , enjoy your day.”

The Golden Rules of using emoji’s

As much as emoji’s are intended to be fun and light hearted, don’t over use them. Too much familiarity can be off-putting for customers. A silly face at the end of every sentence stops being authentic very quickly. Also several repetitive smiley faces in a row is appropriate when chatting to friends if you are really happy about something but it’s not appropriate for customer interactions.

Don’t open communications using emoji’s because you never know who you are speaking to. Be polite and friendly, you can even use less formal language but leave the emoji’s out until you have a good feel for the customer and if emoji’s will be appropriate.

Avoid too many negative emoji’s and others that simply aren’t appropriate for customer interactions. For example: the blowing kisses face, the in love face, the eye roll, the angry face, or the getting sick face cross the line of professionalism and should be avoided altogether when chatting to customers.

Be human. Remember that emoji’s are about conveying emotion in a conversation. When you think about the emotion it helps guide you in determining if the use of an emoji would be appropriate and which one to choose.

I get excited when I see trends such as using emoji’s emerging as it creates new ways for agents to interact with customers and bring some fun into the process. It gives customers the sense that they are chatting to a real person in real time. Use them to your advantage. 🙂