Sociolinguistic Analysis

October 15, 2020

What is sociolinguistics?

Sociolinguistics is the study of how people use language in society. Sociolinguists study the unwritten rules we all follow subconsciously when using language. They identify how we employ various strategies to achieve the desired outcome. In other words: they study the “grammar of communication.”

Why do I need a linguist?

Language is a part of everything we do. Deep knowledge of language is, therefore, a huge asset. Linguists have a unique set of skills to interpret and understand interaction. They can provide insights into your client relationships you would never have had before. Harness the power of science to improve your communications and edge out the competition.

How does it work?

Sociolinguistics theory provides a toolkit to examine language data in a scientific, systematic way. It is a framework that can be trusted, tested, and replicated. Applying this theoretical lens and the expertise of a skilled analyst to your communication will unearth questions, ideas, and findings. These will go undiscovered with a more traditional approach. It will help you translate the patterns in your clients’ language into something meaningful that you can act on.

Linguistic analysis can be applied to:

  • Client feedback surveys
  • RFP documents
  • Marketing materials
  • Website design
  • Internal communication practices
  • Pretty much anywhere you use language in your business

Below are three examples of how Sociolinguistic Analysis helped our clients. They overcame business challenges while improving the overall client and employee experience.

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Client Case Study: Linguistic Analysis of Feedback Comments


ABC Construction is a 3,000+ employee contractor with offices across the country. They use the Client Feedback Tool (CFT) to monitor their success across offices and business divisions and identify potential problems. Client Savvy provides insight into the scores reported through CFT and what those patterns reveal. Up until now, the firm hasn’t paid much attention to the comments that often accompany feedback scores. The firm asked Client Savvy to analyze what their clients are trying to tell them in the comments.


Qualitative data like free text comments can be difficult to analyze reliably. To the untrained eye, the data is chaotic and any insights are unreliable.


Client Savvy conducted a sociolinguistic analysis of ABC’s client comments.


The analysis identified several key themes in the data that led to specific recommendations on how to improve their service. The currents running through the language were not organized by question or topic. As such, they were not immediately evident when doing a scores-based analysis. The themes covered more emotional, abstract, and relational issues within the firm. They were not limited to a specific stage or aspect of project delivery or a certain type of project. Without linguistic analysis, the firm would not have been alerted to concerns and opinions clients repeatedly expressed in their feedback.

Key Examples:

Staffing was a major concern to clients, not in terms of quality, but quantity. Many simply stated the project was understaffed, but others provided more nuanced assessments:

“John is an excellent project manager. Probably needed two of his caliber on the project, at least for some of the time.”

The firm also discovered client anxiety about the staffing was closely linked to concern about the level of effort. This was especially true in the end phase of a project:

“Felt like attention to the project dwindled towards the end…”

Further exploration revealed client concerns that the large size of the firm led to less attention paid to their project. Undoubtedly that insecurity could be related to clients’ high criticism of team staffing and effort.

ABC adjusted their end-of-project staffing protocol to create more positive close-out experiences for their clients. This reduced the sense of “abandonment” and increasing measured loyalty. Key staff now stay engaged more closely through total completion.

Client Case Study: Linguistic Analysis of Net Promoter Scores


XYZ Engineers is a large (1,700 employee) Civil Engineering company with clients in both the public and the private sector. They have included questions based on the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is a way of assessing loyalty. NPS uses scored responses to categorize clients into three groups. Those who will help your brand’s success (“Promoters”). Those who will hinder it (“Detractors”). And, those who will do neither (“Passives”). XYZ wants to better understand its NPS data.


NPS creates clear categories based on the scores respondents give. However, it doesn’t provide the tools for deep analysis into how to apply knowledge beyond identifying where a client falls along the spectrum.


Client Savvy conducted a sociolinguistic analysis of XYZ’s NPS data.


The analysis helped the firm understand WHO were “Promoters,” “Detractors,” and “Passives.” It also revealed WHY certain clients felt that way. It helped the firm identify the areas where they could not afford mistakes and the areas where the stakes were not as high.

Key Example:

XYZ Engineers learned the attribute most highly correlated to “promoter” outcomes is the high-quality staff. The highest correlation to “detractor” was the price. But the mention of the cost was non-existent in the “promoter” comments. These were almost exclusively about praising the high quality of staff. When the right staffing assignments are made, the firm can pass along the cost of retaining top staff. High-caliber personnel provides value beyond cost concerns.

“Ron is among my top trusted advisors. I will go to him first if I need help in the future.”

Comments like the one above raise an interesting potential liability for the firm. This client values their relationship with Ron above their relationship with XYZ. Were Ron to move on, they might not retain this client. The firm implemented plans to retain top talent, connect their exceptional staff to the right clients, and work to replace interpersonal connections with loyalty connected to their overall brand.

Client Case Study: Linguistic Analysis of Baseline Survey Results


A1A Engineers is a Civil Engineering company with nearly 5,000 employees nationwide. The firm employs Client Savvy and the Client Feedback Tool to conduct annual baseline surveys of their clients along with ongoing project-based feedback. They use the baseline data to track overall client relationships, identify trends and areas for improvement, and get a better sense of what their clients are looking for in a consulting firm. The firm had a board meeting approaching and asked Client Savvy to help frame their client relationships into key findings and recommendations for the board.


Typical analysis of baseline surveys breaks down the numerical scores and organizes them according to a number of different metrics and cross-sectional surveys. This level of analysis, however, does not always reveal the motivations or sentiments that motivate clients.


Client Savvy conducted a sociolinguistic analysis of A1A’s baseline survey results.


The linguistic analysis revealed many common themes between clients as far as how they conduct their work and communicate within their teams. The analysis also delved deeper into how clients view the business practices of the firm. This wasn’t expressly asked about in the surveys, As such, it was not brought to the surface in other discussions of baseline data.

Key Example:

A1A learned clients felt a sense of ’abandonment’ after projects went to the “punch list” phase. As critical staff members moved on to new projects, perceptions during transition suffered. The firm also discovered that staff transitions, unavoidable in a large company with projects lasting years, have had positive and negative impacts on their clients’ perceptions.


“I used to be highly unsatisfied. However our new engineer is outstanding and has completely turned things around.”


“The engineer on my project recently retired. We are working through the transition.”

The notion of smooth transition and succession planning has become a key part of their new strategic plan. They implemented a plan to pair two key internal staff (one account-oriented and one project-oriented) on each major client/project. In addition, they solicit feedback during and immediately after a staff transition. This ensures positive perceptions are maintained and peak performance delivered.

If you would like to learn more about Sociolinguistic Analysis and how it can help you achieve your strategic business objectives, Contact us to learn more, or click the button below to chat with a client experience expert today. 


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