How to Write Email Templates That Don't Make Customer Service Agents Sound Like Robots
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How to Write Email Templates That Don't Make Customer Service Agents Sound Like Robots

When it comes to writing emails to customers, contact center managers fall into two camps. The first is the “Have You Seen Their Writing?” camp. In this camp, managers are so concerned about their customer service agents’ poor writing skills that they require agents to use templates (canned responses) when they reply to customers’ emails.  The “Have You Seen Their Writing?” managers realize that templates sound pre-written, but asking agents to free-text is just too risky.

The second is the “Keepin’ it Real” camp. In this camp, managers are so concerned about the authenticity of their agents’ emails to customers that they reject templates. The “Keepin’ it Real” managers know that their no-template approach makes it likely that agents will send some poorly written—possibly embarrassing—emails to customers, but requiring agents to use templates is just too robotic.

So, who’s right? The “Have You Seen Their Writing?” managers or the “Keepin’ it Real” managers? In my opinion, neither is right. I believe we should provide email templates for agents to use, but the templates must must be written in a style that enables us to deliver sincere, personal customer service

Five tips for writing email templates that won’t make customer service agents sound like robots:

 

1. Write templates in your company’s brand voice.

If your marketing team and your customer care organization don’t collaborate regularly, it’s likely that your email templates don’t sound anything like your company’s TV or magazine ads, newsletters, email blasts, web content, mobile app, Facebook posts, or tweets. This isn’t good. To give customers a consistent experience, the voice and tone of your company’s customer service emails should be consistent with all the other ways your company speaks to customers. If you want customers to trust the information you give them, your emails have to sound like, well, you.

Imagine you work for ABC Auto Finance Company, a lender that targets first-time car buyers between ages 25 and 30. Your tag line is “No credit, no problem!” and your mascot is a cute little teddy bear called “Fresh Start Fred.” Your brand voice is playful, approachable, and casual. If you use templates to write emails to customers, the templates must use the same brand voice as your company’s other communications.

Example: Don’t use a template that sounds nothing like Fresh Start Fred

Dear [Mr./Ms. Last name]:

We have received your email about your inability to log on to your ABC Auto Finance online account. In reviewing your account, we have learned that your name is misspelled. We have sent a request to the appropriate department to correct the spelling of your name. The updated information will show on your account within one to two business days.

You may log on to your online account after the correction has been made on your account. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Please follow these instructions to log on your corrected account online:


•Sign in at www.ABCAutoFinance.com with your username and password
• Answer security question
• Go to Add Another Vehicle on the Account Overview page
• Enter your account number and the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number
• Click Submit

Should you encounter any difficulties, please call our Customer Service Center toll free at 1-800-123-4567.  The hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday.

We value your business and look forward to servicing your needs in the future. 

Sincerely,
[First name Last name]
Auto Finance Financial Services

Do write a template that uses Fresh Start Fred’s voice

Hello [First name],


Thank you for contacting us about the problems you were having when you tried to log on to your ABC Auto Finance account. In your online account, your name was misspelled, so you couldn’t get into it. We’re really sorry about this mistake, and we’ve fixed it! The correction will show on your account within one to two business days.

You can log on after the correction has been made on your account. Here’s how to log on:


• Sign in at www.ABCAutoFinance.com with your username and password
• Answer the security question
• Go to Add Another Vehicle on the Account Overview page
• Enter your account number and the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number
• Click Submit

If you have any problems, please call our Customer Service Center right away at 1-800-123-4567. We’re here for you Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Everything should be working smoothly now!

Sincerely,
[First name Last name]
Auto Finance Financial Services

2. Train your agents to combine templates with free-text.

Being able to knit together prewritten content (the template) with individualized content (free-text) is a high-level writing skill, but with training and practice, most customer service agents can free-text very well. Good templates should require some free-texting, so customers will realize that the agent read, and is responding to, their individual issues.

Here’s an example of a template that requires a good amount of free-texting and, in my opinion, yields a natural-sounding, non-robotic email to the customer.

Template that requires the agent to free-text

Dear [First name Last name],


Thank you for letting us know about the [describe item] you left on our plane on your flight to [destination] on [date]. We’ve looked for it, but I’m sorry to say that we haven’t found it.

To try to locate your [item], we contacted the flight attendants and cleaning crew. None of our staff has found your lost item, and, unfortunately, your [item] has not been turned in to our Lost and Found Department.

Is there any chance you left your [item] at the ticket counter at [airport name] or in the area of your departure gate, which was [number]? If so, please contact the airport’s Lost and Found Department directly. Here’s their Contact Information [hyperlink].

We hope to see you on another ABC Airlines flight soon.

Sincerely,
[First name Last name]
ABC Airlines Customer Relations

How the agent free-texted the response

Dear MaryAnne Farrell, 


Thank you for letting us know about the iPad in the blue leather case you left on our plane on your flight to San Francisco on January 5, 2015. We’ve looked for it, but I’m sorry to say that we haven’t found it.

To try to locate your iPad, we contacted the flight attendants and cleaning crew. None of our staff has found your lost item, and, unfortunately, your iPad has not been turned in to our Lost and Found Department.

Is there any chance you left your iPad at the ticket counter at San Francisco International Airport or in the area of your departure gate, which was Gate 60 in Terminal 3? If so, please contact the airport’s Lost and Found Department directly. Here’s their Contact Information.

We hope to see you on another ABC Airlines flight soon.

Sincerely,
Courtney McKesson
ABC Airlines Customer Relations

3. Use lots of pronouns.

Using the words I, we, and you liberally in your templates establishes a personal relationship between the writer (customer service agent) and reader (customer). So, templates that include lots of pronouns just sound more personal.

Don’t write templates like this

Customer service is of paramount importance at ABC Corporation, which welcomes the opportunity to review customers’ concerns and questions and provide feedback. 

Do write templates like this

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We’re glad to have the opportunity to review your concerns and provide feedback. 

4. Loosen up your grammar.

Use contractions (gasp). Begin a sentence with however, but, or and (faint). If your templates are written in a style that sounds more natural, your customers may not even realize they’ve received a template response. The first template, below, is grammatically correct, but stilted and unfriendly-sounding. The second template takes the occasional liberty, but it’s less likely that a customer will realize it’s prewritten.

Don’t write templates like this

As per our records, your dormant account has been closed due to inactivity. Dormant accounts are deactivated when the account owner has not signed into them four months, even if email has arrived during that time. Unfortunately, once an account has been deactivated, it is impossible for the EmailNow team to retrieve any stored information. It is possible to reactivate your account; however, it will not have any of the information stored in it. Owners who wish to reactivate their accounts should follow the fours steps listed below.

Do write templates like this

Because your email account was inactive, we’ve closed it. We close (deactivate) accounts that haven't been signed into for four months. Unfortunately, once an account’s been deactivated, the EmailNow team can’t retrieve any information from it. It’s possible for you to reactivate your account by following the four steps listed below. But, even if you do reactivate, your account won’t have any stored information, like email addresses or saved messages.

5. Use plain language, not legalese.

Sometimes we have to explain a policy to a customer, and a template is a great way to equip your agents to do this without much effort. But the template itself doesn’t need to include the entire policy, chapter and verse. In the template, paraphrase the policy in plain language, then link to the full “legalese” at the website.

Don’t write templates like this

According to our records, all persons who purchased tickets for the canceled concert on December 6, 2014 were issued a $100 ticket credit coupon for future use. This discount coupon is valid for one year toward ticket purchase at the Downtown Music Theater. The single-use coupon is not combinable, not replaceable if lost or stolen, and cannot be used for promotional items, clothing, or artists’ merchandise. Upon single use, any residual balance remaining on the coupon will be forfeited.

To redeem a discount coupon, patrons will be required to purchase a ticket on our website or you may call our Box Office toll-free at 800-123-4567.

Do write templates like this

Because the December 6, 2014 concert was canceled and you couldn’t use your ticket, I’m sending you a $100 ticket credit coupon, which is valid until December 7, 2015. You can use this coupon to purchase tickets for any of our Downtown Music Theater shows. (Please review the fine print about using this coupon.)

When you’re ready to use the coupon, please go to our Buy Tickets page or call our Box Office at 800-123-4567.

If they’re well-written and carefully maintained, email templates help new agents get up to speed quickly, enable customer care managers to store and update information in a central location, and improve email agents’ productivity. Templates themselves don’t make agents sound like robots. Badly written, canned-sounding, brand-voice-lacking, legalistic templates do. But well-written, natural-language templates with lots of room for free-text can connect with customers really well.



Topics: Learning & Development, Email

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