How emojis are changing customer conversations

27 April 2018 by Anita Matthews

Emojis are changing customer conversations

Love them or hate them, emojis are visual representations of real feelings and emotions.  We often use them in chat apps or emails to communicate more graphically how we feel in the moment. They started as part of teen texting culture but have quickly migrated to mainstream communications. 

They are increasingly used in customer service conversations and not just by millennials. They come in handy for situations such as texting and Twitter where your space can be limited.

Emoji usage

Why are they so popular?

Emojis help add clarity and emotion to our message. Given they aren’t labelled their meaning is up to those who use them.

They are often used to convey an easily identified thought or meaning in a conversation. A few of the most common reasons for use include:

  • To lighten a mood by introducing humour
  • To help build a friendly perception of a person or situation
  • To convey a message in limited space

They do say a picture speaks a thousand words…

The text-based communication we use so often removes a lot of the subtle meanings present in face-to-face communications. Intonation, tone of voice and emphasis can all change how we understand and interpret meaning. Non-verbal signals and body language play a large part in how we understand communication and how we feel about what is being said to us. Just 7% of the meaning in communication comes from the actual words used...

Compoments of communication 2Source:

In today’s world of digital and text-based communication emojis can be useful in helping to replace some of this lost context and try to guarantee our message is understood.

Should you use emojis in conversations with customers?

Although emojis are prevalent in personal communications their role in business communication is more complex. Some believe that emojis aren’t appropriate for business conversations because of a perceived negative impact on credibility. 

While that might hold true for certain industries, many businesses are embracing the concept and the results are surprising.

A University of Missouri-St Louis study tested how people responded to emojis in both work and personal emails.

They found in both cases the use of smileys made the recipient like the sender more and made the recipient feel the sender liked them more – even in the case of work emails 😊

Even when 4 emoticons were used in an email, the sender’s credibility wasn’t affected.

So if using emojis fits your corporate tone - it can be a good way of showing the human side of your brand. But be careful not to make light of a customer complaint. If you’re not sure it fits, best to go without.

How brands are using emojis

Pepsi launched their ‘Say it with Pepsi’ campaign to support its #PepsiMoji packaging initiative. Around 600 varieties of the bespoke emoji-style icons appeared across more than one billion bottles and cans of Pepsi - allowing consumers to share a message of their choice.

Say it with Pepsi


The brand decided to provide digitally-savvy consumers with the height of convenience – a service that allows you to order merely by tweeting the pizza emoji. By following a few quick steps to register for the program, users can Tweet a pizza emoji to Domino’s registered Twitter account and have their favourite pizza brought straight to their door. Pretty nifty.

Dominos emoji order

How to get the right message across with emojis

If you want to try a more friendly, personal touch in your customer conversations here are a few pointers:

#1. Build the relationship

Depending on the nature of the customer interaction you might not want to dive straight in with an emoji. Be sure to gauge the customer’s tone and understand why they are making contact. Build a rapport and reflect the type of language and tone they use.  Social channels are naturally more informal and so lend themselves to this type of communication, whereas channels such as email can be more formal. 

#2. Connect with the customer on an emotional level

Much of the meaning we take from a conversation comes from non-verbal cues, so used in the right context an emoji can help bring warmth and personality into the conversation.  The customer wants to be understood and have someone fix their issue. It becomes a visual tool for communicating empathy.

#3. Use emojis relevant to the content.

There are thought to be over 2,800 emojis. This can create temptation to use as many as possible in every sentence. But it’s much more effective to pick just those relevant to the conversation. A smiley or a thumbs up in response to a customer thanking an agent for resolving a problem makes much more sense than part way through when the resolution may not yet be clear. Always be professional; an in-love face, or blowing kisses face probably isn’t appropriate when dealing with a customer.

#4. Be culturally aware

Emojis don’t always mean the same thing to everyone. They can have different meanings across cultures. If you are serving customers across multiple markets be aware they might interpret your emoji with a different meaning.

A report from HighSpeedInternet showed that across cultures the “Folded Hands” emoji is often taken to mean praying, blessed, and clapping, but in Japan the emoji is actually meant to be a Japanese symbol for “thank you”.

The “hug” emoji can also be pretty confusing, with high percentages of respondents reporting they use it to say “that’s cool” or to symbolize a “funny shrug”.

Also be aware if you use the waving hand emoji when chatting with Chinese people who are located in Mainland China as it is interpreted as breaking off the friendship (ouch!)

In summary…

The key to using emojis successfully in customer conversations is knowing your intended audience will connect with them and using them in a way that adds something positive to the message.

Check out Hubspot’s Emoji Translation guide to get you on the right track.

Find out how you can build better customer conversations – try Sentiment to help you streamline your digital customer service and improve service levels. 

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Tags: digital customer engagement, digital customer service, emojis