While emoticons may seem too casual or even too silly to play a role in formal communications, the study shows that they can play an important role in professional and business communications, said S. Shyam Sundar, professor at The Pennsylvania State University in the US.
In the study conducted in South Korea, people who text chatted with customer service agents gave higher scores to the agents who used emoticons in their responses than agents who did not use emoticons.
The customers also reported that agents who used emoticons were more personal than agents who used a profile picture with their responses.
"The emoticon is even more powerful than the picture, though classic research would say that the richer the modality for instance, pictures and videos the higher the social presence," Sundar noted.
"But the fact that the emoticon came within the message and that this person is conveying some type of emotion to customers makes customers feel like the agent has an emotional presence," he pointed out.
The researchers also said that agents who responded more quickly to customers during the chat were rated more positively than those who did not.
This quick, back-and-forth synchronous type of conversation, makes customers feel more like they are taking part in a real conversation, the findings showed.
The researchers recruited 108 participants from Seoul, South Korea universities and assigned them to interact with one of nine different versions of a fictitious e-commerce site.
The findings appeared in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.