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HomePatterns > How to answer customer email > Set up detailed guidelines for responses



Guidelines on content

Develop a styleguide just for e-mail.

Provide a database of boilerplate answers.

Set up detailed guidelines for responses

Set up an auto-responder to reply within a few seconds, saying, "Thanks for your message, I'll get back to you within 24 hours."

People suspect their e-mail will go wrong. So getting an immediate response is reassuring, even if the text is boilerplate. (Of course, you ought to put your full name, address, and phone in there, too, as evidence of your good faith).

Then beat their expectations by responding within 6 hours.

Don't let a day go by without a response. You must set some kind of deadline for replies.

The sign of a mature site is absolute determination to reply within a few hours. Beginning sites often neglect this little touch, making thousands of customers mad enough to vow never to return.


E-mail responses to customers, chapter from Hot Text, Web Writing that Works (PDF, 995K, or about 18 minutes at 56K)


Guidelines on content

Set some limits on what respondents can say, too. They must not:

  • Preannounce products or services
  • Promise repairs that may not materialize,
  • Swear that if the reader just follows the advice everything will work like a well-oiled machine.

Develop a styleguide just for e-mail.

A styleguide lays down the law for your customer service reps. In the styleguide, you should:

  • Define the exact capitalization, spelling, punctuation of product names, departments, technical terms, so you are consistent within your message, and if anyone else writes to the same customer, the text looks as if it comes from the same company.
  • Ban e-mail abbreviations like BTW ('by the way"), and THX ("Thanks") because some people imagine those are airports, or car models.
  • Keep it clean.  No swearing.  No snide comments about stupid users.
  • Keep it legal. No attacks on a gender, age group, religion, ethnic group, nationality, area of the country...you know the drill. 
  • Offer standard patterns for responses, so reps know how to organize a reply.

Provide a database of boilerplate answers.

These are not enough, but you need standard troubleshooting guides, and regular procedures.  Your customer service reps must have some advice they can take off the shelf, and plug into their responses. 

You must keep filling up the database, as you track new questions. Make sure you have someone writing new content, full time. And make it easy for reps to find the content by thinking carefully, and filling in the fields for symptoms, or problems.

Write as though Mom were reading.
--Nancy Flynn,
The ePolicy Handbook

I'm hoping you get back to me soon, before this bug crawls all over me.


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