5 Tips to Provide Better Customer Service via Email

Learn the five tips to providing better customer service via email and improve your contact center’s email customer service. 

While live chat and social media customer service have been the “sexy” channels in the contact center, 54% of customers used email for customer service last year, making it the most used digital channel for customer service according to Forrester. However, email customer service has a very different writing style than chat, SMS, or social media. Train your Agents regarding that difference. It will make them more effective delivering email customer service.

What are those key differences? According to a J.D. Power presentation at last year’s GTACC (Greater Toronto Area Contact Center association) event, North American customers have a double standard when it comes to chat versus email. For chat, the Agent’s speed of response was a critical driver of customer satisfaction. Customers were willing to overlook typos and slight grammatical errors, if the Agent answered their question quickly. The speedy nature of chat implied your Agent’s writing would not be perfect. On the other hand, customers harshly judge typos and grammatical mistakes in email. They presume the Agent has time to carefully compose an email. So, they judge any mistakes harshly.

Those harsh judgments are compounded by the fact that most Agents either learned to write by composing formal university essays. Or, by writing quick, informal text messages and Snapchat responses. So, most new hires have either a very formal or very unprofessional writing style.

Why is that important? Customers think Agents have time to composed perfectly written emails, with warmth and professionalism. However, email is a very “cold” medium: eye contact, vocal tone and body language do not exist. How do you compensate for that “coldness?”

1) Train and coach your email Agents to “Write in the warmth.”

Train them to write phrases such as, “I would be upset too, if that happened to me” and “I want to help you.” Training Agents to write in a professional, yet friendly tone, is similar to running Quality Assurance calibration sessions. It takes time and adjustments. You need to help your team find their writing style. Can they use contractions or not? Are there any “banned words?” Are there formatting guidelines regarding sentence length or number of sentences to a paragraph? Constant feedback and coaching sessions are essential to help your team develop their email customer service writing style.

2) Learn to read “Between the lines” and ask good diagnostic questions

Customers often ask questions or send complaints using vague language. Similar to phone customer service, email Agents need to carefully read their customer’s email for frustration, anger, etc. They also need to write good follow up questions to confirm the root cause of the problem. That means creating a written dialogue with a customer, so you can fix their true problem.

3) Do not deliver bad news via email

Some people hide behind email to deliver bad news. That is a mistake. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news or get yelled at. However, it is better to talk to someone live, gauge their reaction and try to sooth/retain them as a customer. With an email, the customer may cancel their service or return their item, giving you no chance to retain them.

4) Use an email management system to queue and prioritize customer emails

A good system will help you route inbound inquiries to the appropriate Agent skill set. They also track aging tickets. So, you can escalate if necessary. A good email management system is like an ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) system for written contacts.

5) Remember the public relations aspect of email customer service 

Anything your Agents write can be captured and shared on social media and in court cases. So, they should always write as if their email will be seen on a billboard in front of everyone. That means no sarcasm, which does not translate well in writing. Also, no blaming the customer for their problem.


Use these tips to help improve your contact center’s email customer service.


Mike Aoki is the President of Reflective Keynotes Inc. (www.reflectivekeynotes.com), a training company that helps contact centers improve their sales and customer retention results. A contact center expert, Mike was chosen by ICMI.com as one of the “Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leaders on Twitter” for the past six years. He also received the GTACC Award for social media influence, and the Canadian Institute of Management’s Quality Service Award for leadership. He is also a co-author of the Amazon #1 bestselling leadership book, “Called to Action.”