Written by Ian Landsman on Jul 26, 2016 in

Customer Support by Email: Dos and Don’ts

Oh, inboxes. Where personal and work emails are met with an endless supply of social media updates, promotional notifications, spam and more.

Rumors abound that email is dying. That social media is the new era method of customer service, in an age when many people prefer to not pick up the phone. And while that may in part be true, email is very much alive. In 2013, 48% of Kentico Customer Experience Survey respondents listed their email as their communication channel of choice. (DMN)

Now, most of the stats regarding customers and email relate to email marketing. Special offers. Newsletters. Welcome emails. Drip campaigns. You get the picture.

But if you’re emailing a customer to talk about what’s new with you, you should know that delightful customer service requires two-way conversations. It’s not all about you. Customer service through email is critical today, especially as the cost to acquire a new customer is much more expensive than the cost to retain a customer (by how much, however, is debated - 3x more? 30x more?).

Let’s dig into some key email dos and don’ts, so you retain your customers.

Greetings

A customer has emailed you. Is it with positive feedback? Or a serious concern?

How you set the tone in your response is established as soon as you greet them. No matter what the scenario, you want to convey the sense that you are:

  • Listening
  • Interested in what they have to say
  • Ready to act on their comments, questions or feedback
  • Approachable

But, like any interaction, you also have to adjust your tone based on the situation. You don’t smile at bad news. Similarly, you limit your peppy exclamation points when a customer isn’t feeling all that enthused with your business. On the flip side, if your customer is happy, you should be happy, too, and express it immediately, from the salutation and first sentence.

  • Hi Jen, It’s great to hear that feedback from you!
  • Hello Joe, We’re sorry to hear of that situation, and we’d like to resolve it immediately.
  • Welcome back, Jamie! We’re so excited you decided to purchase another vehicle from our dealership!
  • Hi Bob, We’re sorry to see you leave. If there’s anything you need in the future, we’ll be here. Please let us know.

Remember that emails, much like most forms of written communication, lack corresponding facial expressions and vocal cues to indicate how you intend to come across, so strict attention must be paid to how you begin your correspondence.

Do: Monitor your tone to match the situation, and use descriptive language to make up for the lack of vocal emphasis.

Don’t: Sound too peppy when a customer is upset. Don’t sound bored, uninterested or unapologetic.

Do: Use them. Consistently. Even if the response is short and the customer isn't using them.

Don't: Launch into a response without an opening. This is an email with a customer, not an IM with a friend.

Signatures

Your email signature communicates a lot about you. There, the customer will see not only your name, but your title and your contact information.

How much you communicate here is up to you.

They’re contacting you by email, but do you want them to know how you can be reached by phone? Do you want to include your general availability, or hours in which you are most likely to respond?

Does your title indicate any sense of seniority in your position, or will the disenchanted customer be inclined to request a supervisor when they believe you’re of junior status?

Do: Communicate the necessary information you want your customers to know about yourself or your employees.

Don’t: Include contact information for methods of contact you will be unresponsive to. If you don't respond to phone calls, or the phone number in your signature only leads to the front desk and there’s no direct way to reach you, don’t include it.

Don't: Rely on images to convey important information, because not all providers show images by default and some individuals may have them turned off intentionally.

Subject Lines

Maybe your customer service software automates these subject lines for you. Or, the customers decide it themselves when they initiate contact. Or, maybe you manually email a customer who’s called you and provided an email address for your response.

Do: Ensure your subject lines are immediately clear as to the topic. Include your brand name or product name and the subject of your customer service inquiry. Keep it “searchable” so people can find it later.

Don’t: Be witty in the subject line. While your content might be friendly, you’re there to be serious and take care of business. Your subject line should communicate you’re focused.

Timing

As soon as possible is great. Quick responses are critical.

Do: Follow up as soon as possible to acknowledge the customer’s inquiry.

Don’t: Rush responses and provide inaccurate or incomplete information. If you need more time, acknowledge the inquiry and follow-up with a complete answer when you are prepared.

Cc’ing Others

Cc’ing other individuals onto an email thread has a number of pros and cons.

  • It’s the most direct way of notifying more people of a situation or conversation taking place.
  • However, it requires the person looped in to go back through the conversation history to regain all context.
  • This saves time, rather than forcing a customer to re-explain their situation to a succession line of customer service representatives.

It’s great for communicating to all the people who need to be in the loop. The biggest risk? Putting more people from your business on the thread, especially when the customer is not hearing what they want to hear. Customers don’t want to feel ganged up on.

Of course, all of those points apply when you’re simply using a standard email system, but there’s a better way to manage that communication. Help desk tools allow you to notify more members of your team, keeping them in the loop without the customers seeing everyone that is following the thread.

Do: Loop in the appropriate people, when more people are required to address the customer’s problem or concern. Also, bringing in a manager, and pointing it out, helps convey that you take an issue seriously and will go "all the way to the top" to help the customer if that's what it takes.

Don’t: Allow multiple people from your organization to offer conflicting feedback. Even though there may be more than one voice on the thread, in most cases, there should not be more than one answer or explanation given to the customer. Consistency is key to your credibility and trustworthiness.

At HelpSpot, our help desk allows you to communicate as a team privately, allowing you to have a single cohesive reply to your customers. They don’t need to hear any of your internal back and forth. They just need your solution!

Customer Service Pet Peeves

We asked some friends what else drives them crazy when it comes to email and customer service. We got a couple great responses.

“Don’t copy and paste a response that doesn’t actually answer the original question.” Relying on stock answers that do not directly address the concern the customer has the potential to anger the customer and make you look unprepared.

“If I have a question, please do your best to answer it.” Customer service responses that dodge the original issue or indirectly answer the pertinent question can make customers think you have no good answer, or have something to hide.

“Don’t ignore customer inquiries. I hate when I send an email and get no response.” If you offer email as a customer service option, you must be responsive to it. The same goes for any method of contact.

“Don’t respond from an email address where the inbox is not monitored - I want to write you back.” Be accessible. Give the customer direct access to the support representative they need to reach, especially if they are going to require follow-up calls to resolve the issue.

“Don’t spend half the response upselling.” Ugh. We’ve covered this before. There can be overlap. You can offer a benefit to a customer while offering a profitable opportunity for you, but that should not be the goal.

“Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want copied and pasted on Twitter with your brand tagged.” We think this one’s pretty self explanatory!

Your goal is to provide delightful customer service to all of your customers, so they continue using your product or service again and again, become repeat purchases, and refer you to friends colleagues.

By following the email tips above, you’ll be well on your way to providing excellent service to every customer. You can stand out in even the most crowded inbox by being responsive and being helpful.

Presented by HelpSpot

Hit the restart button on your customer service. HelpSpot has everything your support team needs to make your customer service sing.

Don't miss our next post

We publish new posts each week. Get them in your inbox.

Write a guest post

Interested in writing for the HelpSpot blog? We love adding new voices.

About the author

Ian Landsman of UserScape

Ian is the founder of HelpSpot and also podcasts at Bootstrapped.fm.

Topics

Want a Demo?