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Study: Customer service reps should use more emoticons

"The emoticon is even more powerful than the picture," said lead researcher S. Shyam Sundar.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Customer service reps should use more emoticons
Emoticons may help keep customers happy. Photo by ra2studio/Shutterstock

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., May 21 (UPI) -- New research out of Penn State University suggests customer service reps should employ more emoticons -- at least until they're replace by robots.

The study, conducted by scientists with Penn State's Media Effects Research Laboratory, found that online reps who regularly employed emoticons and typed fast were more successful at leaving customers happy.

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"The emoticon is even more powerful than the picture, though classic research would say that the richer the modality -- for instance, pictures and videos -- the higher the social presence," lead author S. Shyam Sundar, a communications professor at Penn State, said in a press release. "But the fact that the emoticon came within the message and that this person is conveying some type of emotion to customers makes customers feel like the agent has an emotional presence."

The key to successful online interactions between service representative and customer, Sundar says, is empathy and responsiveness. While emoticons can display empathy, responsiveness requires fast typing.

In analyzing customer service experience in South Korea via a mobile texting app, Sunday and his colleagues found participants were most satisfied with their experience when service agents responded quickly and used a combination of text and emoticons or text and video.

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Sundar says when a customer service agent responds promptly to a customer's remark or question -- a rapid-fire, back-and-forth chat session -- a feeling of co-presence is created, like two people are participating in a real, live face-to-face conversation.

"Feelings of co-presence, constructed by the agent's promptness, might lead customers to be loyal to the company by creating a favorable service experience," explained co-author Eun Kyung Park, a researcher at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea.

The new research was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

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