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10 steps to improving your email customer service

Since I do a lot of email customer service (oh and my company makes an email customer service product!) I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of a few things I’ve found that can greatly improve the level of service your customers receive via email. It’s not a perfect list and even I forget to do all these things all of the time, but I believe if you stick with them that your customers will feel better about your service level and you’ll see tangible increases in satisfaction and sales.

1. Say Hello

It’s very hard to communicate over email. It can be very cold and corporate and impersonal. I find that simply starting off a response with Hi Bob or Hello Bob compared with just your name is a great way to set the tone. You want the customer to feel comfortable and most importantly that there’s an actual human on the other end of the email not just a corporate cog.

2. Thank Them for Their Time

Many of my responses start off with a thank you line after the initial hello. For instance, if it’s a trial user with a question on a feature in the system I’ll often start with something like this:

*Hello Bob,

Thank you for taking the time to evaluate HelpSpot.


Again this reinforces the human relationship. It’s also a crossover to your sales efforts and acknowledges that they’re making an investment in their time and money with your product.

3. Always be the Last One to Respond

I’ve talked about this one before. No matter how an email conversation ends, I always try and be the last response. Even if it’s just a simple “no problem” or “let me know if you have any other trouble”. First, I like to make sure there’s resolution in the customers mind. If I’m the last one to respond then there’s no doubt that the request is completed to the customers satisfaction. Second, it shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile. There are very few companies I’ve ever dealt with where after I sent a “thanks for fixing it” type message they responded. Those that have tend to stand out from the crowd.

4. Reply as Fast as Humanly Possible

This is always a tricky one, but I believe you should always try and respond as quickly as you can even at the expense of your other work. Even if you’re a programmer and you’re in the zone. Nothing is more important than your customers. Yes, this will cause you delays and some frustration and most Programmers Time Optimization Books would frown upon it, but it’s the best way to do business. Having remarkably quick support has gotten me more word of mouth sales and links than just about anything else. This is another one of those crossover areas where your support is your sales.

5. Organize your Email

OK I can’t resist. My company does make help desk software you know! Seriously though you have to have a solution to organize your inbound email and trust me your email client is not it. You need a tool that can organize emails so none drop through the cracks. If you have more than one person answering emails then you need a tool so you know who’s working on what. You need to be able to spot trends and see where your product can be optimized to eliminate recurring support problems. None of this is possible with a standard email client.

6. Used Prepared Responses Sparingly

So you’ve followed my advice and have some type of email customer service package in place. Yeah, you can automate everything now. No! Resist the temptation to turn your support operation into an assembly line. Prepared responses (email templates to some) have their place, especially for extremely common requests but they should not be a majority of your responses.

The simple reason is that it’s extremely hard to make those responses not sound canned. They always sound canned. The human brain is extremely good at detecting objects (or words) which are out of place. You can’t fool it, you can however trick it sometimes 🙂

My tip is to use your prepared responses for partial replies. Write the beginning of the email yourself, but use your canned response to fill in some of the middle which you write over and over. That way the initial lead in paragraph is custom and sounds right to the customer. The prepared response then fits right in with the flow. You’ve managed to keep the human tone and still greatly increase your support speed.

7. Always be Nice

This one is flat out hard, but you must always be nice. No matter what happens, no matter how much you want to grab your keyboard and write things you’d never say in person you must keep your cool. This is especially important in emails since there will be a permanent record of what you say. On the modern web that email could be on the front page of Digg in an hour. If you feel yourself loosing it walk away or simply don’t respond if you can’t be nice.

8. Have Phone Support Available

You remember in the Matrix how all the humans stayed in the Matrix, because on a subconscious level they knew they had the ability to leave if they wanted to. That’s exactly like email support. You don’t have to advertise your phone support, but there can come a point in an email support request where a phone call is just the easiest way to get something resolved. This is a critical moment in the support request. If you force the customer to continue via email and refuse to use the phone the interaction is going to get ugly very fast as the customer and you both get frustrated.

Just like in the Matrix very few customers will actually choose this path, but it’s important that the option is open to them. In the end it will often save you time and turn a poor experience into a remarkable one.

9. Know Who You’re Emailing With

This isn’t always possible of course, but if you can try and know who you’re talking to on the other end. If you store this type of info in your CRM take a second and look before you respond. There are many questions which require a different type of response for a CTO compared to a non-technical end user.

10. Link to Self Help

When possible avoid putting your answer (or full answer) in the email. Don’t be afraid to link out to the relevant self help resources (you have a self help website right?). This is important because some things simply require more room than an email can provide (not technically, but comfortably). It also teaches customers that you have a self help area and where to find it.