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3 Psychological Principles to Elevate Your Customer Service Game

Fact: exceptional customer service is in an Office Ninja’s DNA. Often the face of the company, Admins, Executive Assistants, and Office Managers are there not only to help their co-workers but their companys’ customers. As Office Ninja Leslie A. aptly put it, “Admin roles ARE customer service roles… My job is to make their job easier.”

According to a report from RightNow Technologies, 89 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company as a result of a negative experience. If that statistic is not frightening enough, only one percent of consumers feel their expectations for a good customer experience are always met. One percent!

Don’t fret, though. Office Ninjas have years of experience under their belt, and many from our community offered their advice and thoughts on the subject. Better yet, we’ve included some behavioral science and psychology lessons in here so you understand why and how your customer service can improve. Without further ado, here’s the science behind these Office Ninjas’ stellar customer service advice.

The Serial Position Effect

Great customer service reps intuitively understand that first and last impressions are the ones that matter most and the science reflects that. As Kim C. L. wrote, “I have always looked at customer service as treating everyone the way I would want my grandmother treated. Always going that extra mile, always following through to make sure that their issue got resolved, being responsive and polite and most importantly always making sure that there is a “smile” in my voice. No matter what is going on, stopping what you are doing and giving that person your attention will make a difference.”

Okay, so the science part: in the 1960s, two different studies sought to understand memory better. The scientists then recited a long series of words to a wide subject pool or people and asked subjects to recall items from a list in any order. People tended to remember the end of the list the best and then could recall the first few items before anything in the middle. So those words recited in between? That’s a bit of blur. Thus, the serial position effect was born—aka the tendency of people to remember most clearly the first and last items in a series.

Image Credit: “Serial position” by Obli (talk) (Uploads) – Obli (talk) (Uploads). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

The serial position effect nicely encapsulates, then, any customer service interaction. Think about when you are on the phone with a customer service rep. You don’t remember exactly how someone is helping you (if they are at all) but you do remember the last impression of the phone call—either they helped you (yay!), or they didn’t (nay!).

Ninjas like Kimi Y. know what’s up with the serial position effect. As she writes, “Customer Service means whomever you interacted with leaves with a smile and had all of their issues addressed as best as possible. I try my best to have everyone I come into contact with just as happy as when they came to me, if not happier.” Well, put!

Psych 101 Takeaway

The serial position effect explains why people remember the end of the interaction best (as it’s freshest) as well as the beginning. If you can positively or negatively impress them by the end and at the beginning, that impression will stick around.

Language Choice

To quote Buddha (yeah, we’re going there), “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” And Buddha didn’t even know how appropriate this advice would be for future customer service reps everywhere.

Word choice can make a huge difference when it comes to changing the way people act or feel. Heck, even the pronouns we use—i.e. “I,” “she,” “mine” and “who”—reveal deeper thoughts, emotions and motivations. The point being, language is an essential customer service tool and can greatly affect our emotions.

A phenomenon known as the emotional Stroop test theorizes that emotive words not only affect our feelings but our reaction times. An emotionally charged word can overwhelm our cognitive functions and make us feel powerless and less able to make decisions. For example, we’re faster with processing neutral words like ‘clock’ than we are with emotional ones like ‘problem.’ That’s why plenty of customer service departments use neutrally charged words in their scripts.

However, scripts are the pits for anyone who’s on the other side of the line. In 2011, American Express surveyed Americans which common customer service phrases from scripts annoyed them the most. The shocking winner with 27 percent of the general population vote? The classic, “We’re unable to answer your question. Please call xxx-xxx-xxxx to speak to a representative from xxx team.”


Word choice that reflects a personal touch has shown to work better than impersonal scripts. As companies have migrated their service efforts over to the internet, customer service must reach more than in-person visits, faxes, and telephone calls. Think: tweets, instant messaging, emails, texts, etc. Careful word choice here can see great results—a study conducted by scientists at Penn State’s Media Effects Research Laboratory found that online reps who regularly used emoticons and responded faster were more successful at leaving customers happy.

Office Ninjas know that language is a key part of communication. Melissa S. advises, “Remember to use the right tone and words. NEVER say things like ‘our policy’ [or] ‘I’ll have to get the manager’ [or] ‘No,’ etc., even if it’s the case. Search your mind to find the words that convey those things in another way like, ’May I have a moment to look at all the options?’ [Or] ‘I want to get another set of eyes involved so we can better serve you.’ [Or] ‘Let me check what I can do for you that would provide the same outcome.’”

Psych 101 Takeaway

Word choice greatly affects people’s emotions. Ditching the script to be more personal with your customers—online or off—will help ingratiate yourself to customers.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)—or the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions—has been a buzzword in the workplace since the term was coined in 1990. Dr. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., the author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, writes, “How customers feel when they interact with an employee determines how they feel about the company itself. In a psychological sense, the ‘company’ as experienced by the customer is these interactions. Loyalty is lost or strengthened in every interaction between a company and its customers.”

EQ in customer service has shown to be instrumental in the workplace. A study completed at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that when healthcare providers emphasize empathy in healthcare settings, they forged positive patient outcomes, overall satisfaction and strong patient-physician relationships. Even Apple’s Genius Bars (which sounds like an oxymoron) instructs its workers to demonstrate empathy.

Image: Gizmodo

As Michelle M. says, “[Office Ninjas] are masters of customer service. We are constantly meeting and anticipating service needs for everyone around us—upstream and downstream. I also feel like I am a flight controller as well—making sure everyone has what they need to be successful in fulfilling their deliverables.”

Adds Karen S., “To me, the meaning of customer service is simple: give what you would like to receive. If society defined it as I do, we would all be in a much better environment. I have always modeled good customer service habits. I have worked as a Customer Service Representative in the banking industry, and giving what I would like to receive was quite challenging. I have also worked in retail, where it was challenging as well. In my current role, as I work with students, faculty, and the university community as a whole; I display professionalism, with a smile, and courtesy, while meeting the requests at hand. I give what I would like to receive.”

Part of being an Office Ninja is using EQ to provide exceptional customer experience. You can take an EQ quiz here, if you’re interested. Depending on how you score, you might want to look at these tips for becoming a more emotionally intelligent worker.

Psych 101 Takeaway

Emotional intelligence influences customer satisfaction and is a highly valued skill in the workplace.

And that’s it! Many Ninjas are already using behavioral science and psychology principles without even knowing how successful they can be! Remember that last and first impressions matter most, word choice is essential to personalizing a customer experience and that emotional intelligence is your secret weapon for success.

What customer service tips would you add?


  1. A very informative article Miss Emily! Customer Service is our job–whether it be directed towards your executive or to your actual company customers. It is interesting to find out the science behind what we try to do every day, and learn how to do a little more towards that daily goal.

    Thank you so much for the article!

    1. Hi Shawn,

      No problem. It’s fun to learn the science behind our everyday actions, isn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      Take care,


  2. One of my company’s cardinal rules is “Every customer should feel that they are number one.” That’s because they are. We are a service company, and customer service is something we stress with all of our employees. It’s always nice to get a call from a client who wants to let me know that one of the staff went above and beyond to get something done.

    1. I agree Deborah! We should compliment and thank the people we work with more.

  3. Emily,

    I L-O-V-E this article! While I don’ t like to do the math I like to know the stats very much. Another win of this article is knowing the “why”. Remembering why we do what we do and who is on the receiving end is crucial. There is no such thing as being reminded too often. Using science, emotional and artificial intelligence to create a better experience is what sets us apart as OfficeNinjas.


    1. Thanks Melissa for the kind words. I totally agree about understanding why. Plenty of Office Ninjas already exhibit exemplar customer service but now they have some science to back up why it works so effectively.

      — Emily

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