9 Tips to Write a Support Email Your Customer Will Appreciate
You're reading an angry email from a customer. Your stomach clenches as they complain about your company, even more so as they threaten to leave. It’s like a bomb you have to defuse with limited knowledge and never enough time. Considering that 80% of small-to-medium businesses rely on emails for customer retention (Emarsys), your task is even more critical. If you want customers to keep using your product, your email shouldn't only answer the specific question they came with. It needs to create a sense of credibility.
Building trust in a company is a process that doesn't solely depend on support, but the emails we write could definitely "make it or break it" for customers on the other end. Sounds like a lot of responsibility, right? Especially when your email queue is on the verge of exploding. The good news is, you can craft great support emails in a relatively short amount of time if you keep some guidelines in mind.
In this article, we'll break down the methodology of writing support emails that are simple, helpful, and effective at the same time:
Address with empathy
Make it personal
Thank your customer
Use balanced language
Make it an easy read
Convey positive approach
Guide to the next step
Double check everything
01. Address with empathy
Expressing empathy goes a long way in building trust. Your customer needs a solution, but they also want to be heard by someone who relates to their problem. The first thing you want to do is read your customer's email. Think about their word choices: Do they sound angry? Frustrated? Upset? You don't have to be a licensed therapist for this - ask yourself how you would feel in their shoes. Find the underlying emotion and address it in your email, while reassuring your client you'll do whatever you can to help.
Here's an example of a typical email from a customer - let's see what emotion we can identify.
Is it just me or is the customer practically yelling at us over email? The use of all caps and exclamation marks is an obvious sign of anger. We should also note phrases like "any" or "at all". The actual situation might not be as severe as the customer describes it, but their level of frustration certainly is. On the other hand, we see that they've tried figuring it out on their own which means they're willing to make an effort. At this point, if they still need to contact support they must feel disoriented, and we should address all of these emotions in our response.
We start off by paraphrasing the user's issue. This is an elegant way of conveying that we understand the problem and that we care. Alleviating the stress of being lost in their own account, we now have their attention. We express empathy and move on to the solution. Then, we leave room to ask as many questions as needed. We want to empower the user and at the same time, clarify in a non-intimidating way that we're here for them.
02. Make it personal
When we think about what makes an email personal, the first thing that usually comes to mind is addressing our customers by name. While this is highly recommended, it's only the tip of the iceberg. The true essence of personalization is making emails feel like a helpful conversation with a human, not an anonymous business entity. For that reason, don’t be afraid of using the ‘you’ and ‘I’ forms, acknowledging emotions, and asking all relevant questions.
This leads us to the very touchy topic of canned answers. When replying to a customer’s issue, we often jump straight to the solution and could be tempted to use a ready-made reply or two to save time. Canned replies are an excellent tool, but it has to be wrapped in a way that feels personal if we want to keep the user engaged. First, describe the issue to the best of your understanding, using your own words. Then, you can use the canned reply to suggest a solution while explaining how it helps the user achieve their goal. If there are multiple methods, include all of them and give your personal opinion on which is the best for the specific situation. This way, you’re providing a tailor-made solution while still saving time.
03. Thank your customer
Another way of getting people on our side is thanking them and making them feel valued. This one can be tricky, because it can easily be interpreted as hypocritical. That's why you need to use this tool tactfully. For example, if a user has reached out several times and still hasn't found a solution, don't thank them for contacting support - it's too generic. Rather, tell them how much you appreciate their patience thus far.
When we think about it, there are actually many things we can thank users for without sounding insincere: using our product, bringing issues to our awareness, suggesting feature ideas, and much more. The important part is expressing your appreciation for the feedback regardless of its tone.
04. Use balanced language
When writing support emails, we should be mindful of the language we're using. We want to talk to our customers at eye level, but must also be careful not to cross the line to being too casual. Make sure to use balanced language that corresponds to your company's support strategy. Your tone and voice depends on the industry you're in and the type of clients you're serving. If you're not sure, it's a great opportunity to start a meaningful conversation about the way your company provides support.
Regardless of your company, a good support email shouldn't feel extremely technical, nor too formal. Many people actively avoid using products that they can't understand, so the explanations we provide should be adjusted to their level. Write short and simple sentences without formalities you wouldn't use in real life.
When I was a Customer Care agent handling escalations, I'd imagine giving advice to a non-technical friend while writing the email. A good method to practice in this context is "Explain Like I'm Five", in which you break down a complicated idea in the simplest way you can come up with. While we shouldn't talk to customers like toddlers, it's a good technique to practice when we want to simplify a clunky demonstration.
06. Make it an easy read
Appearance is crucial in support emails. We may have a lot of important info to share, but our users won't read it if it's not easy to digest. Think about the structure in advance and use paragraphs to make a visible separation between topics. Giant chunks of text are intimidating and you want to avoid them at all costs. In general, stick to three to four sentences per paragraph to keep the user interested. To keep your email concise, you can also link relevant support articles or blogs that provide more info.
Take a look at these examples - which one would you prefer receiving to your inbox?
06. Convey positive approach
Our users need to feel our willingness to help - even when their issue doesn't really have a solution. To do that, we shift focus from the negative to the positive. We should concentrate on what we can do, instead of repeating what we can't do.
Phrases to avoid:
There's nothing we can do.
That's not something we can do.
We can't do anything about it, it's not on our end.
A common misconception, for example, is that writing "unfortunately" in the beginning of a sentence can help soften the blow when breaking bad news. In fact, starting with this kind of adverb might do the exact opposite and set a negative tone to your entire email.
Turn the negative into positive by describing what obstacles stand in the way and add practical recommendations for the time being. If there are any alternatives or workarounds, mention them while explaining how they achieve a similar effect to the one our user needs.
Another method (that usually requires management approval) is providing coupons, discounts or a refund when applicable. This may not solve the problem, but it will make our users feel more positively towards the company and increase the chances they continue using our services despite the issue they've experienced.
07. Give value
Value-driven statements make support emails compelling. Some people prefer getting a straight answer without any extra context, but providing the "why" to their issue is much more than a pleasantry. We should always highlight the value in our support emails. Why? Because value gives meaning, and users who understand the meaning relate to us as a company (See what I just did there?).
Describe the value in your suggested solution. Why is it helpful? Why should the user spend (more) time on following your instructions? If there's no available solution, it's important to explain why, as much as possible, without exposing internal info we're not supposed to.
Providing value gives our users transparency, helps them understand us better, and builds trust as a result.
08. Provide the next step
We've addressed the user's concern with empathy, made them feel valued, and provided a solution in the most positive way possible. Now what? That's exactly what they want to know!
If our user needs to wait for someone to get back to them, expectation management is key. We want to avoid disappointment (resulting from overpromising) at all costs. If we don't know how long it's going to take, it's best not to promise any timeframe. What we can promise, however, is a follow-up. We can set a date and time by which we'll provide an update - even if there's no news. It helps de-escalate a tense situation and more importantly, makes customers trust your company if we keep our word.
After addressing the user's initial question, we should provide thoughtful recommendations based on what we see in their account. Is there a next step they should take? Maybe a service they're not making the most out of? It doesn't necessarily have to be linked to the original issue. Alongside this info, we should make our client feel welcomed to ask further questions.
09. Double check everything
When responding to many emails one after the other, typing at the speed of light, it's impossible to avoid errors like typos, grammar mistakes, and broken links. The problem is that even the smallest inaccuracies can make a good support email seem unprofessional - and our company untrustworthy. It unintentionally conveys that we wrote our message in a rush, without paying much attention to the customer's individual case.
Additionally, and this may sound obvious, we should make sure that we give our users all the information they've asked for. It's easy to forget small questions when focusing on solving one major issue. The best way to prevent this is by re-reading your customer's email and comparing it to your reply. Have you ticked all the boxes?
Double-checking may take another minute, but it makes all the difference in the world. It's an important aspect in making emails feel personal, as users can easily sense the time and effort put (or not put!) into them.
Ultimately, we want users to see us as their trusted companion who asks the right questions, solves issues, and roots for their success. Keeping these nine tips in mind, it gets much easier to write exceptional support emails that your customers will appreciate.
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Yuval Merynger, Knowledge Base Writer at Wix
Devoted dog mom. Parisian at heart.