Article | 4 min read

More tips for writing great customer emails

Last updated January 28, 2015

Do you think email is dying? Well, think again.

A few months ago, Leslie O’Flahavan of E-WRITE debunked this myth during her webinar: Writing Great Emails to Customers: How Social Media Has Changed the Rules. She explained the current state of customer service email, why it’s still an important channel, how social media has changed customer expectations, and how to write emails to customers in the age of social customer service.

We received more questions than Leslie could answer during the hour-long webinar, and she kindly followed up with us to answer the remaining questions, which covered everything from the appropriate tone to use in replies to the future of email.

Q: Is there a rule of thumb to determine which channel we should use to reply back to customers? Is it better to respond via the channel that the customer used to reach out to us, or is it time to pick up the phone and give them a call?
I think you do have to reply in the channel the customer chose to contact you, but you may not have to answer the question in that channel. Suppose a customer contacted you via email to ask you a troubleshooting question that is very complex. You might prefer to call the customer on the phone to help him out, but you should still email first. You could write a brief email that says, “Hey – got your question and I’m glad to help…” In the email, you should also ask the customer if you can give him a call, so you can walk him through the process. For a rule of thumb, you should always try to deliver service in the channel that requires the least effort from the customer. Sometimes that’s the channel he used to contact you, and sometimes it isn’t.

Q: When you receive an email about a problem that will take longer to resolve, is sending a quick message about the actions we are taking a good idea or will that contribute to the unnecessary back-and-forth between support and customer?
Sending a “Here’s what we’re doing to solve your problem” email is a great practice, especially for Help Desks. It does add one layer of back-and-forth, but it’s the good kind —the kind that shows you’re responsive, invested, and taking action.

It is a good idea to keep the customer informed on the progress the support team is making even if that means taking a little extra time because it shows the customers you are thinking about them. But while we are being friendly and keeping them in the loop, it is important to remember not to be overly friendly.

Q: How do we be friendly to customers without coddling them?
In my experience, writing in a friendly tone is different from overpromising or overextending. A friendly tone doesn’t have to become compensation, for example: “We’re friendly, so that means we have to give you 10,000 frequent flyer miles.” Using a friendly tone definitely does not mean coddling the customer. Let’s imagine that a customer asks a company to give a full refund on a product the customer broke in a fit of rage. We would tell this customer no, we’re not giving you a refund, but we’d do it in a direct, calm, friendly reply. We’re not going to violate our return policy for this customer. Friendly can be firm, too.

Q: How should we treat Facebook private messages? Should we see them more as email or social media?Facebook private messages shouldn’t have a different tone than emails. That’s the in-a-nutshell point of my webinar. Some customer care organizations answer Facebook private messages faster, use a more personal tone, and are more “fun” than they are in emails. That’s a problem when about 30% of customer contacts are in email. In any channel, it’s usually safe to take the customer’s tone and attitude into account, so if your Facebook customers are far more casual than your email customers, you might use a more casual tone with them, but it’s not because they’re on Facebook per se. Your communication should be friendly, brand-appropriate, upbeat, and timely in all channels.

Q: What’s the future of email?
I think the future of email is complicated. For personal communication, I believe email is dying a slow death (already dead?). But for business communication and as a customer service channel, I believe email can remain stalwart and useful if—and this is a big if—customer care organizations can improve the quality of what they send, answer faster, and integrate email content with other kinds of online self-service content. As for whether customer service staff should encourage one communication method over another, that’s an interesting question. I think we should prepare to give high quality service in all the channels we offer, and we should avoid blaming the channel when our service quality is poor: “Our customers don’t like the phone. Of course, when they call us, they have to hold for about 15 minutes or use our 17-option IVR…”

In the end, email writing is an art we need to master to build a strong rapport with our customers.

Miss the webinar? If you want to learn more, you can watch the recorded version