ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


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

big earphonesThis article has been edited on 6/24/2022.

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

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

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 tagline 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.

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.

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.

Loosen your grammar

Use contractions. 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.

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.

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.