Dear [customer name], sincerely [customer service rep]
As you know, customer service teams are on the front lines. They see all the emotional extremes, from unbridled love to raw hatred. They deal with every concern, from trivial to life or death. They can be the difference between a loyal customer who shouts your name from rooftops, or a review troll who sets out to destroy you.
So it’s no surprise that customer service people just want to get on with their jobs without marketing getting in the way.
But (occasionally) marketing are right. So if customer service teams do need some help writing “on brand”, how do you do it?
Sending over some brand pillars and a mission statement won’t solve anything. Here’s what we recommend instead.
Emails and letters
The backbone of your array of customer service communications is actually one of the easiest to improve.
Give your team some training.
Brand guidelines are boring – even to brand nerds. But a workshop that teaches people how to write well (and on brand) engages everyone.
No customer service rep is going to wade through a 100-page document of brand colours and fonts just to find out how they should respond to that angry email they just got. If you want to change the way they write, you need to invest in their development.
Forget about your 19 tone of voice values and your 37 personality traits. Just have a chat with a professional trainer to identify a few (ideally up to 3) useful qualities that people can actually use day to day. Then use the training as a way to build confidence and show people how to check their writing against those values.
If your business depends heavily on templates for emails and letters, you obviously need good copy to begin with. But even a perfect template can be ruined by a timid writer who isn’t confident enough to personalise it.
Make sure any training you commission helps customer service take ownership of templates to use them effectively.
Automated emails and letters
For big mailings where you’re using a standard text with a few personalised fields, it pays to make the text as effective as possible.
Again, investing in training for whoever writes them is worthwhile. Or you could hire professional copywriters to do it for you.
This email from bulb is a good example of exactly what a customer service email should be. Friendly tone, informative content, clean design, and a clear structure.
Knowledge database and FAQs
When you’ve got an inquisitive customer asking a difficult question, where do customer service people turn for information? An internal FAQ or database can be a great resource, letting your team respond directly without having to wait to hear back from other departments.
But… your team’s answers are only going to be as good as your data.
If the canned responses are badly written and hard to understand, overhauling them will give your brand image a huge boost. And it will keep the team happy too – no one likes trawling through confusing information for something useable.
For some businesses this will be a mammoth task. But the investment will pay off. If you have the capacity in-house, get your best writers on it. If not, hire external help, even if it’s just for the most popular articles. Overhaul as many as you can to make good, friendly writing the new normal for your business.
Customer service will soon start to pick up on the new tone for their own responses.
People are wary of phoning customer service numbers, and with good reason. Sadly, customers are more likely to remember an ineffective call centre with long hold times than any good experiences they’ve had.
So chatbots are becoming an increasingly important way for people to resolve issues.
Your system’s design needs some careful thought. Have you mapped out the whole journey to make things as quick and painless as possible? A chatbot is pointless if it’s hard for the customer to get what they need.
And then there’s the tone. You want the bot to sound friendly and, well, chatty – but also professional and straight to the point. You don’t want it to sound like a robot, but you don’t want to make people think you’re tricking them with a fake person either.
Writing for chatbots is a whole post in itself – but the key thing is not to get too excited with the magic of the technology at the expense of good communication.
In most cases your chatbot will pass a customer on to a real agent at some point. Or you may just have a real agent answer straight away.
One of the most frustrating things from the customer’s point of view are the canned responses that don’t apply to the situation. Some reps rely so much on the prewritten text that they obviously don’t read the question or take the time to understand what the customer really wants.
Take this example of an Amazon chat that an angry user posted online. Here’s an extract:
Me:i need you to delete this “ct.williXXXXX@gmail.com” account because it is not mine.
please don’t change my password.
farah:ah yah sure..I’m not going to change your Password maam..
what is going on here?
farah:oh so sorry to call you Maam..
Its okay..I got mis information in here..but let me handle this for you..
Me:can you delete the account “ct.williXXXXX@gmail.com” or not?
farah:okay..please give me another moment again..
do you understand the problem i am having or is this a lost cause?
can you please just let me know if this is a problem you can help resolve?
farah:I recommend that you delete the e-mail. For your protection, do not respond to it, and do not open any attachments or click any links it contains okay?
Me:delete my email?
did you say delete my email?
farah:one moment please let me check it further for you..
Me:ONE MOMENT? NOT SURE WHAT YOUR DEFINITION OF A MOMENT IS BUT THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR A LONG TIME AND YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
Just like with templated emails and letters, your team need training to feel confident writing their own responses and personalising the boilerplate text.
The Amazon rep in this example probably didn’t have good English skills which obviously wasn’t helping. But if your team have the confidence to take the initiative in their responses, they won’t need to rely on irrelevant templates.
You may remember this one from a few years ago. A customer was fed up with his Twitter conversation with BA going nowhere, so he paid for a promoted tweet to tell other users how bad they were.
Obviously it’s not ideal that the bag went missing. But everyone makes mistakes – customers can accept that if you get the message right.
Social media exchanges need to show empathy and humanity. BA did neither and they paid the consequence.
Write like you would speak to someone
Respond in an appropriate tone – whether that’s making a joke or being apologetic
Show your human side – use personal pronouns (“I’m sorry”) or maybe sign off with your name
The little bits you’ve forgotten about
If someone struggles to understand the terms and conditions, that’s bad customer service. So why do so many companies go nuts with the legalese? For example, Apple are notoriously bad – their old iTunes T&Cs document was 56 pages.
Customer service isn’t just for interactions between people. It can be as simple as someone being pleasantly surprised by something they’ve read.
It doesn’t take much to be a bit friendlier. Currently leading the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, first direct have refreshingly straightforward copy everywhere – including in their terms and conditions:
Look at the Plain English campaign for good ways to reduce jargon. And remember, just because something needs to be signed off by legal, doesn’t mean it needs to be written by them.
Get on with it
With most of these examples, it’s tempting just to let things be. Who wants to take on those terms and conditions? But the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have consistency in your brand’s tone of voice.
So what are you waiting for?