Saturday, July 16, 2011

Things to Avoid When Emailing Customers

Some of the smartest companies I know limit the email interactions between customers and their service department, precisely because in an age of Web 2.0, an email exchange can easily be published. While most of the written communications are mundane and done by the book, they can also be taken out of context in a way that makes the company look bad, if not incompetent.

Here are a few things you should avoid putting into an email, if possible.

A rejection. If you have to tell your customer “no,” an email is sometimes the worst way to do it. I’ve seen clever companies ask customers they’re about to turn down to “please call” to discuss the matter. While this is frustrating to customers, it can help a company save face.

An excuse. If a company must defend a policy that, to customers, is indefensible, an email may be the worst way to do it. And yet many companies do it anyway. They blame their competitors, calling something an “industry standard” and insist that they must do something in order to remain competitive. In fact, these emails make them look awful when they’re published on Facebook or Google+.

An ultimatum. If the exchange with a customer has deteriorated to the point where you’re ready to refer the matter to your legal department, email is the wrong way to continue. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen an exchange that ends, “Any further correspondence with this office will not be answered.” Why put that into an email? Why not just let your actions speak for themselves?

A non-answer. Many companies have pre-written “form” answers that they simply cut-and-paste into the body of the email. Problem is, they sometimes don’t take the time to actually read the question and ensure the form answers the question. That makes the company appear distracted and clueless.

Anything you wouldn’t want to see published. If you wouldn’t say something to a customer in person, why would you put it into an email? And yet every day, I see customer service representatives addressing a “Mr.” as a “Ms.” or sending emails to “{Insert Firstname}” or including internal emails in which the case is discussed frankly, and without any of the pleasantries you’d expect from a customer service agent. Needless to say, they can be avoided by reading before sending.

Advice for Customers

Increasingly, the smartest companies will try to limit their exposure to any form of media that can be republished. That might include shifting customer-service calls to online “chat” where the windows can’t easily be copied (a low-down dirty thing to do, in this consumer advocate’s book) or insisting that any bad news be delivered by phone.

As a customer, it’s your job to keep the correspondence in writing, as much as possible. So when a representative says “no” ask for it in writing. When someone gives you a reason for a rejection, get it in an email — if you can.

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