Physical shops have a customer service advantage over online businesses: they can smile face-to-face with their shoppers. The rest of us? We have to smile with our words.
This kind of verbal smiling can seem awkward and intimidating at first. Most of us aren't used to being so explicitly...nice! There's also a lot of internal pressure for most designers: what if I say the wrong thing? What if I say it the wrong way? What if I don't know what to say in the first place??? I went to school for design, not for customer service!
I promise you, you've got this. Just remember, you're a human being first and foremost. You can never go wrong with kindness, empathy and maybe a :) or two. If you don't know where to begin, I've created several basic templates you can use as a starting point. Please don't just copy & paste them though: if you adapt them to your own voice, you'll have much more success.
There is a science to this stuff, though, and as you get further into this brave new world of customer experience you might find yourself curious about what works and why. Experts have written entire books about this stuff; for the hard stuff, hit up the Nicer Type bookshelf. In the meantime, here's a mini "cheater" guide with the most interesting tidbits.
Let's start two email examples, both answering the same question:
Thanks for reaching out.
Yes, I can help you with XYZ. I'd suggest ... [ very tedious and large chunk of text explaining what the customer needs to do in order to fix the problem they asked about ]
If you have any questions, please let me know.
Thank you so much for contacting us. It's nice to meet you!
I hope your week is off to a great start! You've brought up a good question and I'd love to help you XYZ. To get started, let's ... [ explanation ]
If you have any questions as you're XYZing, please don't hesitate to let me know. Here to assist you!
Thanks again, Customer.
Does the email on the left solve the customer's immediate problem? Most likely, if the bit within the brackets is clear enough.
Does it make the customer feel excited, engaged and happy about buying your product? Probably not. In fact, if you asked them, they'd probably say you seemed like you were really busy (translation: you didn't make them feel special) or that you were irritated by their email (translation: not enough gratitude). Customers who feel as though they're an imposition, or who feel disregarded, won't be repeat customers. And they aren't likely to recommend your work to someone else. Not good!
Now check out the email on the right. What's different? Well, in a few short lines, we inserted:
• the Customer's name; it's used in the opening greeting and also just before closing
• twice as many recipient references (x9) as sender references (x4)
• a small number of exclamation points (where appropriate)
• words like hope, great, good, start and love
• words like help, assist and let's
• x2 thank you's
• acknowledgement of their question
• a request for further contact
Why are these changes important? Let's look at the psychology.
Dale Carnegie was right; studies show that our brains really do light up when we hear our own name being spoken. By using the customer's name both at the beginning and end of the email, we've not only flattered them, but we've let them know this probably isn't a form letter. At the very least, it's been personalized for them. They will feel as though you took time out of your day to work specifically with them. Warm feelings!
Those warm feelings are multiplied with the number of times we've used "you," instead of "I." Words don't just have a literal meaning; they point to our egos. Listen to any conversation for longer than 10 seconds and you'll notice that most people say I, me, and my waaay more than you, your and yours. Pronouns indicate our internal focus. By replacing "I," with "you," you're effectively saying to them, "I care so darn much about your needs that you are all I'm thinking about right now!"
Incidentally, this pronoun trick is also powerful when it comes to apologies. Most people don't want to accept blame; they'd rather push the responsibility off on someone else. When you can own your mistake by stating, "I am so sorry, this is my fault, I'm going to make it right for you," you're assuring your customer that your regret is genuine.
Speaking of feelings... We've also added enthusiasm. Used appropriately, an exclamation point can be a great way to emphasize your excitement in helping your customer. Don't go overboard -- there's a big difference between an authentic, "Thanks so much!" and an overly enthusiastic, "Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
You may have noted that the email on the right feels "brighter". This is because we've seeded subliminal hints throughout the text. Words like "hope," "great," "good," "start," and "love," are all optimistic and active. Words like "help," "assist," and "let's," indicate ongoing teamwork and customer service resolution. Reading these themes over-and-over in one message, especially a short message, subconsciously drives home your ability to solve your customer's problem with a smile on your face.
Last but not least, we've scattered gratitude in this message like it's glitter -- everywhere! There's a thank you in the greeting, a thank you at the end. We've happily acknowledged the customer's question, and requested further contact. Gratitude is the glue that holds our customer conversations -- and the customer experience -- together. Use it, liberally and repeatedly!
What other techniques can we incorporate into our emails to make them more effective?
• Try to use "and," instead of "but," ex: "Yes, and ..." instead of "Yes, but ..."
• If your customer uses an emoji, consider reflecting their energy by using one strategic emoji in your response. Make sure it's an appropriate tonal match. i.e. "That sounds great! :) " instead of, "That sounds great. :P "
But really, this just a tiny taste how you can engage more authentically with your customers! In addition to our video recommendations, bookshelf and email template hub, you may want to check out what other customer service pros advise, and check out third party tools -- there are as many ways to connect as there are people in the world. Ultimately, you'll have the most success when you discover what works best for both you and your customer base.