School of Support: Taking the Right Tone

Online communication is tricky. Jokes, sarcasm and irony don’t translate easily through text, so your intent can easily be misunderstood.

While emojis and GIFs certainly help, there’s still no sarcasm font, so you have to choose every word with thoughtfulness and care.

That’s why virtual tone is so important in customer service. You can’t set communication guidelines with customers (like you can for internal company communication), so every word and exclamation point counts.

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To demonstrate these challenges, and the solution we use on the Customers team at Help Scout, I’m teaching Leah on our People Ops team how to walk that fine line.

Lesson 1: More action, less apology


Don’t linger on your apology. Instead, focus your reply on action. Acknowledge the problem the customer is reporting, but spend most of your time focusing on what you’re going to do about it. Say you’re sorry when it’s genuine, empathize, then move on to solving the problem or giving them context to their issue.

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Lesson 2: Be direct


When a customer reports a bug, they’re likely pretty frustrated. For both the initial report and your follow-up, cut to the chase and don’t waste their time. Overtures, no matter how well intentioned, just delay the message, so keep your communication focused before adding any warm fuzzies.

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Lesson 3: Match your customers’ tone


Matching tone is a way to let the customer know you are on their side. If a customer is formal, for example, hang back with the LOLs. If they’re more casual, relax your tone too. Mirroring builds rapport and puts your customer at ease, reducing the amount of interpretation needed to understand what you’re trying to communicate.

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Does your team use a support style guide? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Abigail Phillips

Abigail Phillips

Abigail is the Head of Support at Help Scout, where we make excellent customer service achievable for companies of all sizes. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

School of Support: Taking the Right Tone


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