Do's and Don'ts for Winning Email Responses

More and more customers contact us through email. They expect prompt responses. A recent study by Jupiter Research indicates that 35% of customers expect a reply within six hours, an additional 55% expect a response within 24 hours.

Though many people focus on response time, content is just as important. The same study indicated that lack of a thorough response (45%) will cause on-line customers to view a company negatively when considering future purchases. Poorly crafted emails generate additional emails, potentially eating up your e-reps time. Worse, they can drive unnecessary calls to your most costly channel - your call center reps. And at that point, customers are bound to be angry and frustrated.

Here are some tips for designing email responses that are both thorough and appropriate:

  • Do format your response so that it is easy to read on a screen.
    • Make sure the subject line is concise and meaningful to the recipient, not just a generic "Response from Customer Serivce." But also be careful that it does not look like spam. (e.g., "Hi Lisa").
    • Have one subject per paragraph.
    • Separate paragraphs by blank lines.
  • Do be brief. Use as few words as possible to conver your message. More is not better when it comes to email. An email is not perceived as an electronic letter.
  • Do use simple, declarative sentences. Write for a third of fourth grade audience, particularly if you are creating templates that are sent automatically. You do not know the education level of your sender or the sender's level of comfort with the English language.
  • Do be sensitive to the tone of the original email. If the sender is upset because of an error on your part, acknowledge the error. Clearly state what you are doing to correct the situation.
  • Do make sure you answer all the questions posed in the original inquiry. A partial answer frustrates the sender and results in additional contacts. It also makes the company sending the response look inept.
  • Do make clear what actions you will be taking next and when the writer can expect the next contact from you.
  • Do not ask for an order number, case number, or account number when on is included in the original email...sounds pretty basic, but we have reviewed a lot of email responses that request information that was prominently displayed in the sender's original message.
  • Do not blame the writer. If you require specific pieces of information (e.g., account number) set up web forms so that the writer cannot proceed without entering key pieces of information.
  • Do not stitch separate canned phrases together without careful review before sending. The results are emails where some phrases are upbeat and positive, while other phrases are cautionary and negative. The result is not only jarring to the reader, but an indication that your company is sloppy and does not care about the customer or quality.
  • Do not write responses that sound like they came from your legal department. First, these are off putting to the reader. Second, they are likely to generate even more contacts because the recipient does not understand them.
  • Do not just tell the sender to go to your web site. In many cases, they have already been to the web site and could not find the answers they were looking for. If you want them to go back to the web site, provide a direct link to the exact information the writer needs.

Author: Lisa Stockberger, Vanguard Communications -