emoticon peopleThe emoticon just turned 30, and it doesn’t look a day over 25. 😛

But in all seriousness, the emoticon is a powerful tool. Created by scientists to delineate the difference between a theoretical joke and an actual safety-hazard situation, the emoticon has become the best way to get over the challenges of communicating on the internet.

Emoticons are the new body language

“55 percent of the meaning in any message comes from the visual body language,” says James Borg, author of Body Language: 7 Easy Lessons to Master the Silent Language (pg 17). When you think about all the little movements we make during conversation, this makes sense…as does the excruciating number of awkward, misinterpreted messages on the internet (“I don’t care where we eat dinner.” “Why are you so mad?!”).

An emoticon, however, can make an amazing difference in textual communication, especially in customer service. It’s just as, if not more, powerful than body language. Users approach customer service with trepidation; they’ve had terrible experiences with other companies, and they expect to have them again. When you say something factual, they can interpret this – with that prior expectation – as negative or uncaring. A 🙂 at the end of a sentence tells you very clearly that the customer service rep they’re speaking to is feeling positive or being cheeky. “I wish I could get our team to build that, too” goes from unpleasant pessimism to empathetic understanding with “I wish I could get our team to build that, too :)”.

Proof is in the data

When looking at the customer support tickets we responded to in 2012 so far, 9.6% of responses including emoticons got Kudos from customers, while only 5.2% of emoticon-less ticket responses got Kudos. That’s 84.6% more Kudos when you use an emoticon.

Some people think emoticons are stupid or unprofessional, but the fact of the matter is: nobody will get mad if you use one…but plenty of people may get mad if they think you’re being cranky with them (when you’re really not). We’re just fine overusing emoticons if it makes our communication clearer and users happier. Happy birthday, emoticons, and thanks! 😀

Photo courtesy of Miguel Pires da Rosa

Photo courtesy of Thomas Gegenhuber.