Customer centricity and mastering the integration of big data is key to business success, and this is dependent on efficiently identifying the most insightful customer feedback in the terabytes of data you collect. 

Research conducted by 5D shows some of the most powerful and insightful insights collected from voice of the customer programs contain profanity. Yet many people who run VoC programs deliberately delete comments containing profanity for no reason other than the comments might offend someone in the leadership team, and no one wants to offend the CEO.

Such language regularly offends your frontline staff.

Why shouldn’t the head of the company hear exactly what your frontline staff hear? Aren’t we all trying to get closer to our customers and understand their frustrations?

Historically the use of profanity has been viewed as an indicator of ‘norm violating behaviours’ such as being dishonest, criminal activity and anti-social behaviour. And therefore, we remove respondents who use foul language believing these people are more likely to have given dishonest and uninformative feedback.

A study on profanity conducted by Cambridge University psychologists in 2017 showed people who use profanity are more intelligent and honest than those who do not. The Cambridge University study was based on people’s Facebook posts where it is highly likely people are trying to appear intelligent or to entertain their friends when they use profanity to increase their social desirability.

5D used the principles of the Cambridge University study to measure the value of insights derived from customers who use profanity when providing feedback on products and services in a VoC program, and their power in informing business decision making. 5D analysed 80,000 customer comments from several Net Promoter Score (NPS) programs across a range of industries using multiple linguistic analyses to test the sophistication and depth of specificity of the language used (including the analysis used by Cambridge University) and found:

Customers who use profanity are just as intelligent and honest as customers who do not and are more likely to give considered responses. 

On average, customers who use profanity spend 15% more time providing feedback and use 3 times as many words to detail their answers in open text responses. If you remove customers who use profanity you are removing intelligent people who are providing honest and detailed feedback.

Customers use profanityas a genuine expression of emotion and this feedback is more likely to be authentic and unfiltered.

Profanity is mostly used to convey negative emotion. If you code profanity terms as indicators of the emotions, you can see there is a direct correlation between the use of profanity terms and lower NPS scores. When customers use profanity to convey anger their NPS score was -69, and when they use profanity to convey disgust their NPS score was -91.

Customers who use profanity are the unhappiest with your company’s products and services and removing their comments artificially biases your NPS results. 

The level of profanity increases (and therefore the NPS result decreases) in relationship (direct) NPS studies compared to strategic (blind) studies. Customers know the company they deal with is reading the feedback in a relationship study and they want you to know how unhappy they are. In a brand blind study there are fewer advantages to the customer venting their emotion or providing as detailed feedback as they do not know if anything constructive will result from their effort.

Do not remove customer comments that contain profanity from your VoC program, instead utilise these confronting insights;

  • Measure the use of profanity as an indicator of strong negative customer emotion – the negative emotion index can be tracked along with NPS or any other business metric as a companion metric
  • Target customers who use profanity to identify the issues that most frustrate your customers and drive negative word of mouth
  • Send comments containing profanity to the leadership team to demonstrate the depth of customer frustration and ensure feedback to the team that has the most power to drive improvements has not been sanitised

When developing your profanity code frame there are many ways customers can convey profanity including using acronyms and the asterisk – and profanity terms change with different cultures. 

In our study we identified 1,300 expressions of 34 core terms of profanity. 

Happy coding.