With each step that our industry takes into the future, we rely more heavily on tried-and-true platforms like customer service emails to solve customer dilemmas.
Many might tell you that email is too impersonal to deliver the kind of excellent customer service that people expect, but when you carefully craft your emails to be considerate and quick, there's little that you can do to provide a better experience.
Consider these tips and tricks before you make any decisions relegating customer service emails to the past in favor of newer technologies. Sometimes it's the old standards that do the best work.
11 tips for writing better customer service emails
Creating an excellent email strategy starts with identifying the critical aspects of writing a good email and building them into your team's day-to-day practices. Here are some actionable tips for your team to consider and implement in your customer service email strategy.
1. Be human
When working with your support team members to improve their email strategies, encourage them to use language that feels natural. Contractions, slang, and even emojis are totally acceptable if they match the tone of the customer’s original message.
The more you allow your team to use their own language within customer service emails (while remaining professional, of course), the more natural the conversation will feel for your customers.
There’s another aspect of speaking humanly: Using the customer's name. Using their name conveys that you see them as a person with an identity rather than just a faceless customer. The same goes for when your team members use their own names.
When customer service representatives use their names and identities for their signatures and avatars, it broadcasts individual people rather than faceless representatives for a big company. This level of identity can help deter customers' problematic behavior and drive deeper relationship-building and mutual trust.
Humanize your responses as much as you can by encouraging your team members to be themselves, using language that feels natural, and recognizing that your customers are humans, too.
2. Be timely
When a customer reaches out, the amount of time it takes before your team responds or resolves the issue can have a tangible impact on their experience. Make it easy for your team members to find the answers they need and get them across to customers as quickly as possible.
There are a few things that can speed up the response process significantly:
Saved replies and macros
Easy-to-understand escalation paths
Ongoing team member training
Ensuring that your customer service team members can get to answers or escalate to appropriate team members quickly means that your customers will always get responses promptly. Because of that, they'll feel respected, prioritized, and valued.
3. Apologize when needed
The first step to fixing a problem is an authentic and genuine apology. If a customer comes to your team and is upset or frustrated, take the time to hear them out and apologize.
Just like with any interpersonal interaction, hearing someone's complaints and addressing them directly and kindly can have a significant impact on the success of your customer service emails.
A few other phrases to use are:
Thank you for reaching out.
I totally hear you.
I'm sorry that you're running into this.
I understand completely.
I get where you're coming from.
If the issue is something that your company dropped the ball on, take ownership and be sure to address it as you respond.
For instance, if there's a bug because of a feature your product team just released, acknowledge that this is your company's fault, and start to work toward a solution. It feels disingenuous to apologize for something but not fix the issue.
4. Get the necessary information right away
If it's evident right away when reading an email that there isn't enough information to resolve the issue, ask for more. For instance, if the entirety of the email is "I’m having trouble with your product and I need your help," ask for information and look for context around which part of the product they are referring to.
Many companies have built-in tracking to let customer service team members see precisely where a customer was in the product before reaching out to support, so consider referencing that when coming up against tricky tickets like this one.
Some companies choose to ask for additional information from the start with an email acknowledgment autoresponder. This response automatically gets sent out to customers as soon as their email is received.
Typically it sets expectations for response times and office hours for the team, but it can also include documentation to answer common questions and prompts for additional information (more info on this below).
Getting as much information as possible, especially before your team even starts looking into the conversation, is a great way to address the customer's question correctly the first time you respond.
5. Create consistency
It feels good to know what to expect in most situations in life — and it’s no different for your customers. One of the things you can do to improve your team's customer service emails is to create consistency from one conversation to another.
After all, how much trust will you erode if one of your team members answers an inquiry entirely differently from how another one does?
Create policies, tone and style guides, and saved replies to ensure customers get the same experience every time. Be sure to review anything you put in place every few months to ensure that it's still accurate and up to date.
Enact customer service team training so that all of your team members are well-equipped to use the tools you put in place. What use is a tool if no one knows it exists or how to use it?
When you create consistency, all of your email responses match your Twitter interactions, blog posts, and website content, and your customers always get the types of responses that they've become accustomed to.
6. Don't take it personally
Customers reaching out to support can often view it as a safe venting space for whatever has gone wrong in their day. It's not uncommon for emails to be a bit more aggressive than necessary.
A customer service agent never knows where customers are coming from when they email — all they can know is what's right in front of them in the inquiry.
Remind your team members that it's not necessarily them that the customer is angry at, but instead, at the situation they find themselves in. However, even with frequent reminders, it can sometimes be difficult to keep calm — especially in the face of what feels like irrational anger.
There are a few ways to take care of both your customers and your team members:
Give team members an easy path to escalation.
Let your team take mental health days as needed.
Provide "out of the queue" time when things get tough.
Empower team members with excellent training to de-escalate sticky situations.
Fire customers who abuse your team members.
While it's important to be kind and to understand where your customers are coming from, that doesn't mean you should let them walk all over you. Encourage your team to be kind while also holding their boundaries.
7. Answer all the customer’s questions
Everyone's received one of those emails that's seven paragraphs long and has so many questions in it that it's hard to keep track of all of them. Even if there aren't a bunch of interspersed, unclear questions, it can still be hard to make sure that you answer everything in an email — but it's essential.
One of the best things you can do for a customer is ensure that everything they ask in their email gets answered clearly and concisely the first time you reply. Check out our examples below for a great way to format this.
If you recognize that a conversation is complex and has tons of questions, be sure to read the original email over a few times before sending your response to make sure you've addressed all of their concerns.
8. Share resources when and where you can
Documentation is one of the best things you can send to a customer. Not only does it save your team time from typing the same response again and again, but it also empowers your customers to find information themselves the next time they run into trouble. People prefer not to have to reach out to support!
Try to send relevant documentation that can either support or give a more explicit example of your answer whenever you write an email. Documentation can include videos, links to other docs, and even contextual guidance within your product.
Sharing it with your customers means that you've given them the best chance for success, since multimedia documentation often meets different learning criteria better than just an email could.
Similarly, if you are working on an email and it starts turning into a novel, consider creating a document from it. This is doubly true if it's an email that you write often or it seems super detailed beyond what you typically send to a customer.
Rather than stopping to create the documentation and delaying your customer's response, consider creating a "backlog" of documents that need to be written. That way, any members of your team who have free time can decide to contribute.
Add the original content of the first email response that you wrote up as a starting point. A Trello or Asana board is a great place to keep a running list like this.
9. Speak clearly and concisely
While encouraging your team members to follow your tone and style guidelines and allowing them to find their own voices, it's still important to encourage everyone to speak clearly and concisely in your customer service emails.
Some tips to use for concise, straightforward writing are:
Consider breaking things down into easy-to-read lists instead of writing in long paragraphs.
Ensure that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are 100% accurate.
Avoid negative phrases or judgment-loaded statements about the customer.
Use a writing assistant like Grammarly to notify you of typos, misspellings, and run-on sentences and suggest changes.
Send documentation and screenshots to help clarify.
Take out unnecessary phrases like "I think," and get directly to your point.
Not only will this make your emails easier to read, but they will also take less time to write.
10. Match the customer’s tone
Have you ever told someone terrible news and had them respond with a joke? Mismatched tones can be awkward at best and painful at worst. When your customer reaches out, try to match their style as closely as possible in your response. Note things like sentence structure, use of emojis and GIFs, and even exclamation points.
If your customer is all business or is on the edge of frustration, it's probably not a great time to share your favorite “Bridesmaids” GIFs However, if your customer is all smiley faces, it might be okay to use a couple of extra exclamation points in your response.
By matching their tone, you'll make them feel more understood and at ease than you would otherwise.
11. Proactively follow up
If you answer a customer inquiry and they don't respond, especially if you've asked for more information or feedback in response, reach back out to follow up. This is especially true if they contacted you about a bug or product issue still being resolved.
A customer should never have to follow up with your team about a bug they reported. If you cannot respond to every customer individually, consider creating something like a tag that makes it easy to create a canned response that you send to everyone at once.
Even better is an interface where your customers can track requests, bugs, or outages in a single place, like Status Page or something similar.
It's always the best policy to empower customers to find answers on their terms when they need them. Make your outage, bug, and feature request information open and transparent as a great way to take the extra work off your customers' plates.
Practice makes perfect
One of the most important things to remember when improving anything is that practice makes perfect. Continue to evaluate your strategy and the work that you are doing through the lens of these best practices.
Implement repeatable processes and templates that your teammates can use to guarantee success. Regularly evaluate anything you have implemented for continued relevancy and success, and keep iterating to get better.