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HomePatterns > How to answer customer email > Make the subject line mean something



What's this about?

Move the key terms to the front. 

Avoid trouble

Make the subject line mean something

You don't want the customer deleting your message, thinking it is just another pitch for working at home, winning a sweepstake, losing weight, spying on people, or getting a diploma without taking a course.

Use at least one word from the customer's description of the problem. If the customer wrote a particular subject line, repeat it. Don't go generic.

What's this about?

If your customer never wrote a subject line, or if the subject line is something generic from your web server, like "Customer service," then you should make up a better subject line.

Mention items that can ring a bell, reminding the customers what they were writing about.  If you don't get recognition, they will delete you unread. 

So good things to put in the subject line include:

  • Your company name
  • The order number
  • The product name
  • The problem, in the customer's terms, if possible. (No need to reproduce all those cusswords.)


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

Move the key terms to the front. 

Most folks read the subject line in a list of emails.  The column may not be very wide. So whatever you say may get truncated. 

Skip filler up front.  Shorten your company name. Move the problem, product, or any other identifying information toward the beginning. 

Postpone order numbers, and other trivia.  Your customers can read that when they actually open the email.

Avoid trouble

Every month, another term enters the thesaurus of spam filters.  Make sure you are not inadvertently using one of those terms--words that will get you banished to a spam folder, or rejected by a server.

Never use words like free, now, money, sex, xxx, porn, spam, deal, stock, invest...anything you know could look like spam.

Recently, spammers have taken to putting a string of random characters between the letters of banned words, like porn.  So filters have begun to seize on any email that comes in with a string of six or eight characters in a row, forming no known word.  Make sure that your order and transaction codes are mostly numbers, if you put them into subject lines.

You can see that in the war against spam, you could be an innocent victim.  So stay in touch with your marketing group, who wrestle with these issues every day.  Designate someone as the official Spamster, to make sure that you are not accidentally getting filtered right out of your customer's mailbox.

The subject line is your friend.
--Jim Sterne, Customer Service on the Internet

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


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