New research from York University’s Schulich School of Business shows that, when it comes to sales, service, and marketing communications, it’s not just what you say that matters — but just as importantly — when you say it.

The findings are contained in the article “When Language Matters”, published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The article was written by Grant Packard, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, along with Yang Li, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and Jonah Berger, Associate Professor of Marketing at The Wharton School.

The researchers carried out a multi-method investigation, including analysis of thousands of moments across hundreds of service conversations at two firms, plus four separate experiments, to document the moment-to-moment dynamics between language and important marketing outcomes like customer satisfaction and purchases.

The researchers demonstrate their approach to identifying when language matters by looking at “warm” and “competent” language — which can be as subtle as the difference between a salesperson asking, “How are you today?” (warm) versus “How may I assist you?”(competent). Conventional wisdom in marketing is that a warm approach leads customers to think employees are less competent, so competence should be prioritized throughout the customer interaction.

This new research shakes this conventional wisdom. Customers across two firms and thousands of participants across four experiments were more satisfied (and spent more money) when employees used both warm and competent language but at separate, specific times. Specifically, customers are more satisfied when agents use warmer language at the beginning and end of conversations. But warmer language can be costly during the middle of the conversation, when customers expect to “get down to business.” Competent language works the opposite way: it can be costly at the start and end but enhances customer satisfaction and purchases when emphasized in the conversation’s middle.

“Our research helps update beliefs about the ‘warmth-competence paradox’, provides a method for determining when certain kinds of language matters, and highlights ways to improve the customer experience,” said Packard.

Managers and researchers can try out an automated analysis to find out when language matters using their own data for free at

Added Packard: “Our findings can help improve customer service, aid employee assessment and development, and fine-tune artificial intelligence chatbots’ effectiveness. They can also more broadly be used to shed light on word-of-mouth, sales interactions, and marketing communications.”


Known as Canada’s Global Business School™, the Schulich School of Business in Toronto is ranked #1 in Canada and among the world’s leading business schools by a number of global MBA surveys, including The Economist, Forbes, and QS. The Kellogg-Schulich EMBA program is ranked #9 in the world by The Economist, #9 in the world among joint programs by QS MBA, and #1 in Canada by the Financial Times.

Previous post

The Ins and Outs of Marketing in 2024: Elevating your DOOH campaigns

Next post

New Fraud Fighters initiative leverages boxing fundamentals to empower Canadians to defend themselves from financial scams

Direct Marketing

Lloydmedia, Inc is based in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and is a multi-platform media company which delivers a total audience of more than 100,000 readers across four national magazines, three industry directories, and a range of events and online marketing.