Email remains one of the best mediums for customer service (and for communication in general). That said, there are some weaknesses to using email for customer service. For example, tone is much harder to convey and understand over email; if you aren’t careful, you could give the wrong impression. And since a back-and-forth dialogue is harder to establish in an email thread than, say, a phone call, you’ll need to take extra measures to make sure what you’ve written is easy to understand.
In this guide, we’ll go over some of the most important customer service email best practices to know and use in your own customer service efforts.
Customer Service Email Best Practices to Master
Regardless of whether you run a small business with just one or two people on your customer service team or you’re part of a massive corporation with a full-fledged customer support email system, these strategies can help you improve your customer service email effectiveness:
1. Improve your email response times.
Your average email response times have a significant impact on customer satisfaction. Customers want to receive a response as soon as possible, even if you don’t have all the answers yet. It’s a demonstration that you care about their issue, and it can go a long way in setting the right tone for the conversation. Make sure you respond to all customer emails within one business day—but if you want to go the extra mile, try to respond to them within an hour. If you do this consistently, you’ll develop an impressive reputation.
2. Keep a casual, friendly tone.
In some industries, it may be wise to stay as professional as possible; for example, the banking industry usually still refers to people by their formal titles. However, most businesses will benefit by keeping a light, casual, friendly tone throughout the email. You can still be professional, but don’t be afraid to drop some informalities, like using contractions, employing figures of speech, or even using colloquialisms when the situation calls for it.
3. Use templates, but don’t rely on them.
In Gmail, it’s possible to make templates in the form of canned responses, which is incredibly beneficial for your customer service team. If you find yourself answering the same questions or providing the same information, these templates can radically improve your response times (and make your employees more efficient). However, be careful. Most customer issues aren’t identical, but instead are variants of a common theme; responding the same way to every similar email can end up hurting you. Plus, if a customer feels they’ve gotten an automated message, they may believe you aren’t taking them seriously. Personal messages are usually much more effective.
4. Use a personal greeting.
One of the easiest yet often overlooked customer service email best practices is to make your messages even more personal by using a personalized greeting. This should be a common-sense tip, but you’d be surprised how many businesses don’t use one. If appropriate for your brand voice and target demographics, greet your customers by their first name. The worst thing to do is something generic and impersonal, like writing with “To whom it may concern.”
5. Establish a connection.
Customers will instantly feel better (and in some cases, calm down) when they feel like you’ve established some kind of personal connection to them. For example, you might choose to relate to them based on the product they’ve recently purchased. Something like, “I’m so sorry you’re having trouble with Product X, but you made a fine choice—I have one myself,” instantly makes you more relatable.
6. Empathize immediately.
Emotion is sometimes hard to convey over email, leading to occasional embarrassing situations, so it’s in your best interest to forge a sincere emotional connection with your customers. Chances are, they’re experiencing some kind of negative emotion. They might be worried that there’s something wrong with their account, frustrated that their product isn’t working the way they thought, or downright angry that they haven’t gotten the customer service they originally wanted over the phone. Whatever the case, try to recognize the emotion your customer is feeling (even if you have to make a guess), and acknowledge it in writing. Something like, “I’m sorry you’re experiencing trouble with Product X. I’d be frustrated too!” can instantly make a customer feel better. Emotional intelligence is is what determines how you’re able to empathize with someone, and it’s just one of our top customer service skills to master.
7. Remain concise.
Though there are some issues that require an essay-level response, for the most part, it’s better to remain as concise as possible. Your customers are busy people, or else are not especially interested in reading customer service emails, so try to keep them as short as possible. Don’t leave out any important details, but do avoid including information that isn’t necessary for getting to a resolution.
8. Use simplified explanations when appropriate.
If your customer service sometimes involved complicated explanations, don’t be afraid to include an alternate, simplified explanation. It can spare you a lot of back and forth, and ensure your high-level intentions are comprehended. For example, it’s difficult to explain the complexities of gravity as it relates to general relativity, but many professors liken the space-time “warping” effect to the way a bowling ball might warp an outstretched sheet. This isn’t a perfect metaphor, but you don’t really need one; anything you do to make the topic more conceptually approachable will be valuable.
9. Focus on the positive.
Customer service is usually centered on something negative—your customer is unhappy or unsatisfied in some way. However, it’s your job to make it more positive. In most cases, this means spending most of your email talking about the solution, rather than the main problem. For example, you can begin your message with something like, “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this issue, but I’m confident we can resolve it.”
10. Make a promise.
While you’re at it, offer your customer some kind of promise. It doesn’t have to be a literal, “I promise you” statement; instead, you can simply set expectations for the future. For example, let’s say your customer attempted to cancel their subscription to your service, but they were still charged for this month. You can say something like, “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to immediately refund this month’s payment—you won’t owe anything for this month—and cancel your subscription going forward. I’ll also send you a $10 coupon you can use to purchase anything you’d like from our store, as an apology.” The clearer and more succinct you are, the better.
11. Provide links for further reading or help.
Some issues or topics are too complex to cover over email. For example, if a customer is asking which keyboard shortcuts are available in the latest release, it may not be efficient or wise to list them all in your customer service email response. Instead, you can provide links for further reading or help. Don’t use these as a way to dismiss your customer; instead, use them only as supplementary information, and make sure you provide the context. For example, you could lead into a link with something like, “if you want to learn more about keyboard shortcuts, we have this step-by-step guide…”
12. Show gratitude.
People love to see gratitude, so express some thankfulness in your customer service emails. Even if the customer is irate and seems more of an annoyance than a benefit, thank them for their patronage. A simple, “I appreciate your business!” can make your message easier to receive—especially in awkward situations. For help here, see our big post on customer appreciation ideas!
13. Be ready and willing to follow up.
You might be able to wrap up the interaction in a single message, but no matter what, you should have a plan to follow up. In some businesses, especially those for whom customer service is everything, it may be beneficial to go out of your way to follow up to make sure you’ve resolved the issue as desired. In other cases, you may wait to receive a follow-up from the customer; if you do receive this message, be prepared to provide more information or help.
14. Double check everything.
Whenever you’re drafting an email to a customer, whether it’s an initial message or a follow-up, take an extra minute to verify that everything is accurate. Check the spelling of the customer’s name. Check your grammar and spelling throughout the message. Check that all the links you include are working, and check that your advice, recommendations, instructions, or other details are currently accurate. It may delay your response time slightly, but it’s important that your emails are thorough and accurate. Bad spelling, unclear wording, and other easily fixable issues can make you seem unprofessional, and lead to additional back-and-forth messages that waste both your time.
15. Measure customer satisfaction.
Use automated emails or prompts to gather information on customers who received help from your customer service email team in the past. Ask them to rate their overall satisfaction, and prompt them for additional comments. These surveys will help you understand not only whether or not your customer service email strategy is working, but why it is or isn’t working.
16. Analyze high-level data.
Perhaps the most often overlooked customer service email best practices is to measure your efforts so you can improve them. Study your general email metrics, such as your average email response time, the average length of your messages and threads, and whether there are customers who contact you more frequently than others. These metrics can help you understand what you’re doing right and wrong in your customer service approach.
17. Adjust to improve.
Combining all your email metrics with your customer satisfaction data should illustrate a clear picture of your current level of success. Use these to make adjustments to your strategy gradually; for example, you can incorporate new types of email templates, or experiment with different greetings, to see how your metrics eventually change. If you commit to ongoing habit adjustments and gradual improvements, eventually you’ll end up with a highly polished and customer-satisfying approach. For more help, see our guide on how to use Gmail for customer service.
Learning From Your Email Habits With EmailAnalytics
Now that we’ve covered these customer service email best practices, be sure not to miss our post on general email best practices! Do you wish you could have more transparency into the email habits of your customer service employees? Or do you just want to learn more about your own approach to customer service?
Consider trying EmailAnalytics; our tool enables you to quickly generate data visuals to help you analyze things like your average email response time, your busiest times and days of the week, and how long your threads with customers usually last. Sign up for a free trial today, and start learning more about your team’s approach to email.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.