The key to customer relations is forming a caring human relationship. While it may be easy to do that in person when we can share a warm smile, or even on the phone, when our vocal tone can convey understanding and empathy, it can be tricky to do via e-mail communication.
Without the benefit of body language and vocal inflections, in fact, our e-mails can be misunderstood, and can even backfire. Therefore, it is essential to follow some basic guidelines when you write customer relations e-mails.
Here are 10 tips for results-oriented customer relations e-mails.
1. Timing is everything. By the time customers write an e-mail about a problem, they probably already have exhausted a few other avenues. Let's say, they have gotten the wrong delivery of an item or the item is broken. They need help fast.
Whether you can handle their problem quickly or not, you need to respond to customer e-mails promptly. Consider a friendly, personal response to let the sender know you are working on it.
Here are two examples.
We just received your e-mailed inquiry. We'll get back to you as soon as possible. For your records, your support ticket number is #123456. Please include it in any other correspondence about this matter.
Thank you for your order with us! This e-mail is to let you know I have received your message. I am working on resolving your issue, and I will back to you shortly.
While both are better than no response, the second one is more effective than the first. Here's why:
The second e-mail uses the customer's name, making it more personal.
The second e-mail thanks the customer. Everyone likes to be thanked for their business.
The second e-mail uses less formal, yet still professional, language ("message" instead of "inquiry," for example).
The second e-mail uses a sender's name, instead of a ticket number and the vague-sounding "support team."
The second e-mail thanks the customer again, instead of just ending abruptly.
2. Clarify what the customer needs. Many customers write chat and e-mail messages quickly, and their points may not be as clear as we would like. Take the time to read the message over a few times to make sure you understand the problem.
If necessary, ask the customer a few questions. Like this:
Hi again Angela,
Thanks for writing to us on one our customer service hotline. I have read your request and I am happy to help. First, I want to make sure I understand your request. Am I correct in understanding that your unit's power light is blinking, but the screen is blank?
After the customer responds, thank them for the updated information and let them know you are now working to resolve the issue. You can write:
"Thank you. That helps. Please give me a few minutes to check on that information for you."
3. Ask effective questions. When you ask a customer the right questions in an e-mail, you can achieve the same goals as a real conversation. Keep the questions you-focused for positive results. Here are a few examples:
What result would you like to see?
How can we make this right for you?
When do you need the replacement item?
4. Empathize with the customer. In quick forms of communication, we may look to shortcuts, such as emoticons, to express the emotions we cannot express in only the written word. However, emoticons give an unprofessional image – exactly the opposite of what your customer relations department is working to achieve.
How then can you show empathy and understanding to your customers? Some key phrases can be your best friends in these situations, and they are the same ones you might use in a conversation.
It is challenging to express emotions in written communication, especially fast forms such as chat. Here they are:
I see your point.
That sounds difficult.Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Writing Effective Emails in the Workplace course?
Yes, anyone would feel that way.
5. Show humility. Sometimes those of us who deal in customer relations feel that we must be on the defensive all the time. Let's face it, rattled customers can be rude, and we want to quickly diffuse the situation.
Sometimes, it's best to admit we don't know the answer to the problem, however. You can show humility by letting the customer know that this situation needs more attention and that you are seeking the advice of a supervisor.
Rather than give your customers information that may be inaccurate, write back with a brief explanation such as:
Thank you for your patience. I need to do some more checking to resolve this problem. I want to make sure I have all the latest information. I will check back in with you again in 15 minutes. Will that be all right?
6. Proofread your text. Just as with all your business communications, your attention to detail reflects your professionalism. Be sure your customer service e-mails use correct spelling and proper grammar.
In the interest of time, short sentences and brief paragraphs are certainly acceptable. However, do not use text-like abbreviations or acronyms. These messages reflect upon your company's image and your customer's need to be treated in a friendly, yet professional, manner at all times.
7. Stay cool in a crisis. In today's global business environment, many things can wrong in the blink of an eye. Your company could have a data security leak. One of your delivery workers could be captured in a YouTube video hurling a package over a fence. A defect in your product line may require a recall. Your latest shipments may be arriving at their destinations in shreds.
Learning to address a problem quickly and effectively in an e-mail is an important skill for getting through any kind of crisis.
Even if the problem is not of your making, and not your fault, your customers deserve an explanation. And in today's world of rapid-fire social media links and shares, the sooner you get a response out there, the better.
Your first line of defense can be a simple "holding statement" e-mail message, until you get all the information you need, or until a longer response is cleared though the proper channels.
Here is an example:
To our valued customers:
We are aware of the problem with ____________ and we are addressing the issue.
Your trust is important to us. We will let you know how we are resolving the issue as soon as we can.
Your title with company
This type of message basically buys you a little time until you have the answers your customers need.
After you have gathered more details, it is time to write a more complete e-mail that addresses the problem, and how you are making it right with your customers.
Dear (Customer's Name),
Yesterday, we learned that some shipments of our holiday cupcakes and fruit baskets were damaged on their way to our customers. We found out that the recent winter storms delayed several truck shipments and airline flights.
We sincerely apologize for the trouble this problem has caused you. We know this is a hectic time of year for you, and we are working around the clock to get replacement orders baked and sent out to you as soon as possible.
Should you need more information, please let me know. Thank you very much for your business. We appreciate you.
your position with company
your contact information
While it may be tempting to delay let your e-mail until you have everything worked out, you will lessen the problem by sharing with customers any information you have in this second e-mail blast.
Yes, some customers will be angry, but others will respect you for admitting the problem, and with offering to do what you can. If your staff speaks with some customers on the phone, be sure they give a message that is consistent with the e-mail.
Here is a crisis e-mail checklist:
And here is a customer service magic phrases list:
I appreciate you.
I know this is frustrating.
You are right.
That is a great idea.
Let me check on that and get back to you.
I would love to help you with that.
Yes, I can help you with that.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you for taking the time to write to us.
Let me look into this for you.
I will get the information you need and get back to you.
8. Avoid the "but." We've all been there. We receive an e-mailed response to our inquiry that begins something like this: "Would like to help you, but..." Or, "Thank you for writing, but ..."
Brainstorm ways you can include "yes" as much as possible in your customer service e-mails. It sounds simplistic, but many disgruntled customers can be won over with simple honesty. When you write statements such as, "You are right, we could have done better with this," it goes a long way to calm jangled nerves.
A simple word change can make your tone sound more approachable and friendly. Here is an example of how you can remove the word "but" from your e-mails, and, as a result make them sound more positive.
Instead of: "Thank you for your inquiry, but that feature is no longer available."
Write: "Thank you for writing. Unfortunately, we don't have that feature. What I can suggest instead is..."
In other cases, you can remove a negative tone, by avoiding the word "actually." If a customer has a question about data settings, instead of writing, "Actually, you can do this under the ‘security' setting," write, "Yes, you can find this under the ‘security' setting," or, "Sure, you can find this under the ‘security' setting."
9. Skip the, "If you have any other questions," line. This phrase is used so often in business e-mails that it has become meaningless.
You wouldn't end a real conversation with, "Let me know if you have any other questions," so why end an e-mail with a valued customer that way?
Instead of signing off your e-mail with that old chestnut, try one of the more conversational alternatives:
Does this information help you?
Have I answered your question?
Does this explanation make sense?
Is there anything else that I can help with today?
10. Surprise your customer by giving them more than they ask for. Whenever a customer contacts you – even if it is as a complaint -- think of it as an opportunity. Let's say a customer e-mails you because he forgot to cancel his subscription or membership before the next billing cycle.
Maybe he writes something like this:
I forgot to cancel my Internet package in time before the March charge. How can I cancel it now? Do I have to wait for next month?
Here's one possible response. It answers the customer's question but not much more:
You can cancel your account by logging in and then going to your "Account Information" page. You will find a cancel link at the top right corner of that page.
Please reply to this e-mail with any future questions.
If a customer has decided to cancel your service, you can at least have them leave on good terms. Here is an alternative response that may set the right tone for future business.
I am sorry about that monthly charge. I have gone ahead and canceled your account and sent a refund for the monthly charge your way. You should see the refund on your account statement within two to three business days.
If you need anything else, please reply to this e-mail and I will be happy to help you. And have a great weekend!
That customer may be leaving, but he now is leaving with a level of satisfaction. And, who knows, he may be back.
When you exceed your customer's expectations with your e-mails, you extend a smile – with no emoticon needed -- with your written word. Those results will benefit both you and your company down the road.