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A Brief Guide to a Better Email

How to write support emails that your customers will love

About the Author
Chase Clemons

Chase Clemons is the guy behind Support Ops, a community devoted to bringing humanity back to the world of customer support. He works on the stellar support team at Basecamp. Check out more about Support Ops at supportops.co.

You're Swamped. You’ve got 300 new email support tickets for your app with all sorts of other ideas and things to be done outside of answering them. You’re answering emails for hours a day but the inbox never drains down. It seems like even Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t a hope for you any longer.

Good news is that you’re not alone. And you’re in the right place.

I’m going to show you how I handle support tickets. I’m not promising the holy grail or anything close. I can’t magically make those emails answer themselves.

What I can offer is a way to stay on top of your emails without them being on top of you. A way to answer more support tickets faster and easier.

And if you can answer them faster and easier, then you can get your support email inbox down to zero in no time.

Give me a little time now and I’ll save you a lot of time in the future and help you get your support load under control. Once you learn how to write a better email, you’ll be faster at answering support emails and more importantly, your customers will love getting them.

Warning

The bad emails you're about to see are real.
Names have been changed.

Chapter 1

We’ve got your email.

Each time someone emails you asking for help, you need to let them know you’ve got their email. It takes away the anxiety of “Did they get my email? Should I send it again?”

Chapter 2

Feature requests that you’re not working on.

Every team gets feature requests. When you’re not actively working on it, tell the customer so. Be as honest as you can with them so they can decide if they need to move to another app.

Chapter 3

Feature requests that you are working on.

Since you know your team is working on this, let the customer know. Even if you don’t have a timeline for it, the customer will love that you’re working on that new feature.

Chapter 4

Troubles with the browser itself.

A lot of times, a wonky behavior will be from the browser itself. A rogue extension, something hung in the cache, who knows. Here’s how to have them clear it out.

Chapter 5

Extensions in the way.

With as many browser extensions as there are out there, sometimes one of them will get in the way of your app.

Chapter 6

Supporting only certain browsers.

As browsers keep getting better and better, your team will start dropping support for older ones. Just explain why and encourage the customer to upgrade to the latest one. It’s in their best interest and yours.

Chapter 7

Cancelling an account.

Customers will inevitably forget to cancel their account before their next billing cycle starts. You’ll want to cancel it and get that refund headed to them all at once.

Chapter 8

Getting a traceroute.

Asking for a traceroute for a customer to see if they’re reaching your server can be scary. It’s a technical thing that many customers will be intimidated by. Strive to make it as painless as possible.

Chapter 9

Emails blocked by a firewall.

If a customer is behind a pretty strict firewall, email notifications from your app might be blocked. Here’s how to have them check.

Chapter 10

Online only.

Customers will ask about using your app when they’re on a plane or out in the middle of nowhere without Internet access.

Chapter 11

Criticisms by customers.

You’ll always have a few emails from customers about what you’re doing wrong. Some have specifics, some are vague. Here’s the best way to approach them.

Chapter 12

Getting by without a sales team.

Your team is small and there’s not really a reason or the money to hire a dedicated sales team. Larger customers expect you to have one but here’s how you can help them without one

Chapter 13

Saying thanks.

If you do your job right, every ticket will be resolved at the end. Don’t leave your customers hanging without some reply to finish things up.

Chapter 14

Use an app to speed up your typing.

With all of these emails, you don’t want to memorize them or copy/paste them out of some list. Remember, I said I’d help with making you faster at answering emails, not just add more steps to it.

It’s tempting to go with the infamous canned email reply. Don’t. It’s impersonal. It takes away the trust the customer has with you. It breaks an already fragile relationship. They’re in the midst of a crisis and you didn’t even read their email but automatically sent back a reply anyway.

Snippet rule:
Never use automatic canned responses.

They don’t work, never worked, and sure as hell won’t ever work.

But like all good math rules, there’s a corollary to that. You CAN use pre-set snippets to help speed up your responses.

For instance, there might be a project that your team is actively working on. But you might see 15-20 emails every day asking about that option, tool, feature, etc. Sure, I could retype each and every email to a customer. But that’s wasting the customer’s time and my time. They just want an answer.

Enter Text Expander.

Text Expander

You can use whatever app you like but Text Expander is my app of choice. I plug in this emails with distinct keyboard shortcuts. When I get an answer, I’m able to type a few characters and have the bulk of the email ready. From there, I go in and customize the name, add a few other things like “Go Tigers” if they’re an Auburn fan or such. When it’s ready, I send it and move on to the next ticket.

Using Text Expander with email snippets, I’m able to work a lot faster than before. An email ticket about that project from before only takes around ten seconds from start to finish. That’s way better than the five minutes it’d take you to find the info you need and type it all back out. Way better than even thirty seconds of looking for it on a list and then choosing to copy/paste.

With canned automatic emails, no one but the computer ever reads them. That’s wrong… so utterly wrong.

With snippets, a person actually reads the email, understands what’s going on, and then replies back quicker than having to compose that email from scratch.

Think about how much faster you can be when you start using a text shortcut app.

Chapter 15

A few last minute tips & tricks.

Before we finish up, I want to leave you with a few tips and tricks that you can use for every email you write.

Use their name!

Customers love when you say “Hi Bob!” rather than just a generic “Hello” or “Hi there”.

Make sure to say thanks for using your app.

There’s usually a lot of choices out there and your customer has chosen you. At least say thanks and mean it.

Talk like they do.

Don’t use formal writing or words that you wouldn’t use in real life. Write like you would write to a friend.

Short simple sentences reign.

Break up long paragraphs into readable ones. They’re reading an email, not a novel.

For feature requests, repeat their idea and relate to it if you can.

This shows them that you actually read their email and didn’t just skip over it.

If you can, tell them about new features.

It shows that your team is always working on your app.

Close your email on a highlight.

“Happy Friday!” or other date specific line let’s them know you’re writing the email on that day. If you see they have an auburn.edu email address, throw in a “Go Tigers!” or other tidbit.

That's it.

You’ve got my best emails. The ones that I use for most of the customers I interact with.

With these emails, you’ll be faster and your customers will love the emails they get from you.

So now what?

Don’t just copy/paste my emails into your collection of responses. If you do, you won’t sound like you. You’ll end up sounding like me.

Instead, look at how I ended up writing those emails. In college, I had a class on politics and writing. My professor gave us four essays to study for the first class - two pretty horribly written ones and two outstanding ones. Then, we talked about what set them apart, the mistakes from the bad ones, the right phrases and tone from the better ones.

That’s the idea I had in mind when writing this. I wanted you to be able to see bad examples and learn from them. I wanted you to see better emails and learn from them. Not to straight up copy but rather to see what goes into a great email to a customer.

Take the notes from each email and write your own. That way, when a customer gets it from you, it’ll really sound like you.

Thanks for writing better emails.

Acknowledgements

I’m great at support because I learn from the best. I could list out everyone but that list would be longer than you’d care to read, kinda like credits at the end of a movie. But a big thanks to all the ones I’ve learned from and I made sure to let you know in real life who you are.

Many thanks to you too. You’re on the front lines of your company talking with customers all day every day. You’re the voice of the company to your customers. And I’m glad you’re learning how to send better emails to them.

If you ever want to talk, hit me up through any of the options below. I’d love to hear what you thought of this guide.

Thanks,
Chase

supportops.co

@supportops

chase@supportops.co

We make a web-based help desk for teams that insist on a delightful customer experience. More about Help Scout.

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