Customer support ingredients vol. 1: the human touch

One of the perks of writing for customer support is that inspiration is everywhere. We’re all consumers, and at some point there’s bound to be a reason to contact a company for help.

When Sabine’s coffee machine broke, she emailed the manufacturer to find out if she could get a spare part, a repair or a replacement.

Why on Earth would you send your coffee machine to an athletic epilator centre*?

A few days later, the response popped up in her inbox:

Dear Ms Harnau,

Thank you for contacting [company].
Please send the unit to:

ATHLETIC EPILATOR CENTRE*
[…]

When sending the unit, please remember to:
1) Include a copy of your receipt in the package; please retain the original for your record. Should you not have a receipt as proof of purchase please advise the service agent to read the product batch code. This is a four-digit number located on the base of the machine which indicates the year and the week in which the product was manufactured.
2) Please enclose a brief cover letter which should state your name, your address, contact number and reference number (See Below) and a brief description of the fault.
3) Even though you have been provided with a freepost address, we do advise our customers to send the unit by recorded delivery so that it can be tracked (not compulsory).

I trust that the information provided will be of assistance.
Should you require any further information please contact our Customer Care Centre on 0844-123-4567 quoting customer reference number 012 34567890.

Kind regards,

[Company] Customer Care.
****************************************************************

Please do not remove the information below.
[Routing details]This message is routed to you base on these parameters:
[Form used] outbound
[Country RD] All
[Language] All
[Parameter 1] UNITED KINGDOM
[Parameter 2]
[Parameter 3]
[Parameter 4]

How do you feel after reading this?

We all like to feel a spark of connection with people we’re dealing with. It makes us feel recognised and important.

But the style of this email made us feel insignificant and unwelcome.

Write like a human in three easy steps

  1. Don’t use the fancy words that the Romans used: make people sweat, not perspire.
  2. Refer to details.
  3. Allow yourself to be seen as the writer — don’t stay anonymous.

1. Use words that come to you naturally

Say them out loud. Do they feel right? Then they’ll look right on your screen, too.

The example above is peppered with words that are unnecessarily elevated:

  • ‘To contact’ — instead of call or email
  • ‘Previously’ — instead of before
  • ‘Retain’ — could be keep
  • ‘Advise’ — why not recommend, or it’s a good idea to…?
  • ‘Located’ — which could easily be left off
  • Indicates (shows), manufactured (made), you have been provided with (we’ve given you), assistance (help), require (need)

Words like ‘compulsory’ make sending for repair like a chore. As if they didn’t look at your machine, should the ‘cover letter’ be found lacking.

2. Refer to the details

Let’s have another look at this bit from the email:

Thank you for contacting [company].
As previously discussed, please send the unit to:
ATHLETIC EPILATOR CENTRE*

That snippet alone could sound so much warmer and so much more helpful if it referred to 2 details:

  1. Sabine emailed customer service – even just using the detail of how she got in touch gives us more of a sense that they care.
  2. “the unit” – do they mean the broken coffee machine?

The list goes on. Who is “the service agent”? “Our customers” … that’s probably Sabine? And “our Customer Care Centre”, is that the team she’s been in touch with all along?

*Time to disclose that this is not the true addressee. But the original wording isn’t far off!

3. Own your words

  • Put your name on it.
  • Start sentences with I and We.
  • Take ownership.
  • Avoid the passive voice. (That’s when you can add ‘…by zombies’ after the verb and your sentence still makes sense. For example: “you have been provided with a freepost address by zombies” — yeah, that’s the passive voice.

OK, time to add all these ingredients to that email we’ve been served.

How about this version:

Dear Ms Harnau,

Thank you for your email about your broken [Company] coffee machine.

Please send it to our quality team so they can assess the fault and either repair or replace it.

To help them understand what may be wrong with your machine:

Please put a copy of your receipt in the package (please keep the original for your records).

– Please include a note with your name, address, phone number and reference number 012 34567890, as well as a short description of the fault. If you no longer have your receipt, please let us know in your note.

We have given you our Freepost address to make your return as hassle-free as possible. Just to be sure your package arrives safely, it’s a good idea to use recorded delivery (at additional cost). This is only a recommendation — of course you are welcome to use our Freepost address.

Here is our address:

Coffee machine quality
ATHLETIC EPILATOR CENTRE
[…]

We’ll do our best to make sure you’ll sonn have a working coffee machine to light up your mornings again.

If you have any questions, please call us on 0800 123 4567 quoting your reference number 012 34567890.

Kind regards,

Annabelle

[Company] Customer Care

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