How to Write Email Templates


5 Tips to Ensure that Your Service Desk Agents Don’t Sound Like Robots

by Leslie O'Flahavan
June 9, 2016

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared on the E-Write website. 

When it comes to writing emails to customers, service desk managers fall into two camps. The first is the “Have You Seen Their Writing?” camp. In this camp, managers are so concerned about their service desk agents’ poor writing skills that they require agents to use templates (canned responses) when they reply to customers’ emails. The “Have You Seen Their Writing?” managers realize that templates sound pre-written, but asking agents to free-text is just too risky.

The second is the “Keepin’ It Real” camp. In this camp, managers are so concerned about the authenticity of their agents’ emails to customers that they reject templates. The “Keepin’ It Real” managers know that their no-template approach makes it likely that agents will send some poorly written—possibly embarrassing—emails to customers, but requiring agents to use templates is just too robotic.

So, who’s right? The “Have You Seen Their Writing?” managers or the “Keepin’ It Real” managers? In my opinion, neither is right. I believe we should provide email templates for agents to use, but the templates must be written in a style that enables us to deliver sincere, personal service.

Tip #1: Write Templates In Your Company’s Brand Voice

If your company’s communications team and your service desk don’t collaborate regularly, it’s likely that your email templates don’t sound anything like your company’s TV or magazine ads, newsletters, email blasts, web content, mobile app, Facebook posts, or tweets. This isn’t good. To give customers a consistent experience, the voice and tone of your company’s service desk emails should be consistent with all the other ways your company speaks to customers. If you want customers to trust the information you give them, your emails have to sound like, well, you.

Imagine you work for ABC-XYZ Company, a lender that targets first-time car buyers between ages 25 and 30. Your tag line is “No credit, no problem!” and your mascot is a cute little teddy bear called “Fresh Start Fred.” Your brand voice is playful, approachable, and casual. If you use templates to write emails to customers, the templates must use the same brand voice as your company’s other communications.

Don’t use a template that sounds nothing like Fresh Start Fred

Dear [Mr./Ms. Last name]:

We have received your email about your inability to log on to your ABC-XYZ Company online account. In reviewing your account, we have learned that your name is misspelled. We have sent a request to the appropriate department to correct the spelling of your name. The updated information will show on your account within one to two business days.

You may log on to your online account after the correction has been made on your account. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please follow these instructions to log on your corrected account online: 

  1. Sign in at ABC-XYZCompany.com with your username and password
  2. Answer security question
  3. Go to Add Another Vehicle on the Account Overview page
  4. Enter your account number and the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number
  5. Click Submit

Should you encounter any difficulties, please call our Help Center toll free at 1-800-123-4567. The hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday–Friday.

We value your business and look forward to servicing your needs in the future. 

Sincerely,
[First name Last name]
ABC-XYZ Company


Do write a template that uses Fresh Start Fred’s voice

Hello [First name],

Thank you for contacting us about the problems you were having when you tried to log on to your ABC-XYZ Company account. In your online account, your name was misspelled, so you couldn’t get into it. We’re really sorry about this mistake, and we’ve fixed it! The correction will show on your account within one to two business days.

You can log on after the correction has been made on your account. Here’s how to log on:

  1. Sign in at ABC-XYZCompany.com with your username and password 
  2. Answer the security question 
  3. Go to Add Another Vehicle on the Account Overview page 
  4. Enter your account number and the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number
  5. Click Submit

If you have any problems, please call our Help Center right away at 1-800-123-4567. We’re here for you Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Everything should be working smoothly now!

Sincerely,
[First name Last name]
ABC-XYZ Company

 

Tip #2: Train Your Agents to Combine Templates with Free-Text

Being able to knit together prewritten content (the template) with individualized content (free-text) is a high-level writing skill, but with training and practice, most service desk agents can free-text very well. Good templates should require some free-texting, so customers will realize that the agent read, and is responding to, their individual issues.

Good templates should require some free-texting.
Tweet: Good templates should require some free-texting. @LeslieO @ThinkHDI #techsupport

Here’s an example of a template that requires a good amount of free-texting and, in my opinion, yields a natural-sounding, non-robotic email to the customer.

Template that requires the agent to free-text

Hello [First name Last name],

Thank you for contacting the Technical Support Department about [paraphrase the customer’s issue].

I have checked your account, and you can whitelist the domain [insert domain] under SpamAssassin.

Please follow these steps to whitelist the domain:

  1. Log in to cPanel.
  2. Click the Spam Assassin button in the Mail section.
  3. On the SpamAssassin settings page, click the Configure SpamAssassin button.
  4. Next to the whitelist from option, enter [the domain that you want to allow].
  5. Click the Save button.

This way, you can whitelist [domain] and prevent their messages from getting stuck as junk.

Thank you,

Rhonda
Level I Tech Support Engineer
XYZ-Web-Host.com


How the agent free-texted the response

Hello MaryAnne Farrell,

Thank you for contacting the Technical Support Department about the emails from Susan@ABC-XYZCompany.com , which are getting stuck in your junk folder.

I have checked your account, and you can whitelist the domain ABC-XYZCompany.com under SpamAssassin.

Please follow these steps to whitelist the domain: 

  1. Log in to cPanel.
  2. Click the Spam Assassin button in the Mail section.
  3. On the SpamAssassin settings page, click the Configure SpamAssassin button.
  4. Next to the whitelist from option, enter ABC-XYZCompany.com.
  5. Click the Save button.

This way, you can whitelist ABC-XYZCompany.com and prevent their messages from getting stuck as junk.

Thank you,

Rhonda
Level I Tech Support Engineer
XYZ-Web-Host.com

 

Tip #3: Use Lots of Pronouns

Using the words I, we, and you liberally in your templates establishes a personal relationship between the writer (service desk agent) and reader (customer). So, templates that include lots of pronouns just sound more personal.

Don’t write templates like this

Service is of paramount importance at ABC-XYZ Company, which welcomes the opportunity to review customers’ concerns and questions and provide feedback.

Do write templates like this

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We’re glad to have the opportunity to review your concerns and provide feedback.

 

Tip #4: Loosen Up Your Grammar

Use contractions (gasp). Begin a sentence with however, but, or and (faint). If your templates are written in a style that sounds more natural, your customers may not even realize they’ve received a template response. The first template, below, is grammatically correct, but stilted and sounds unfriendly. The second template takes the occasional liberty, but it’s less likely that a customer will realize it’s prewritten.

Don’t write templates like this

As per our records, your dormant account has been closed due to inactivity. Dormant accounts are deactivated when the account owner has not signed into them four months, even if email has arrived during that time. Unfortunately, once an account has been deactivated, it is impossible for the ABC-XYZ team to retrieve any stored information. It is possible to reactivate your account; however, it will not have any of the information stored in it. Owners who wish to reactivate their accounts should follow the four steps listed below.

Do write templates like this

Because your email account was inactive, we’ve closed it. We close (deactivate) accounts that haven't been signed into for four months. Unfortunately, once an account’s been deactivated, the ABC-XYZ team can’t retrieve any information from it. It’s possible for you to reactivate your account by following the four steps listed below. But, even if you do reactivate, your account won’t have any stored information, like email addresses or saved messages.

 

Tip #5: Use Plain Language, Not Legalese

Sometimes we have to explain a policy to a customer, and a template is a great way to equip your agents to do this without much effort. But the template itself doesn’t need to include the entire policy, chapter and verse. In the template, paraphrase the policy in plain language, then link to the full “legalese” at the website.

Don’t write templates like this

According to our records, all persons who purchased an ABC-XYZ Company two-factor authentication hardware token before December 6, 2015, were issued a $15 single-use credit in their Campus Points accounts. This credit is valid for one year and can be used anywhere Campus Points are accepted. The single-use credit is not combinable with other offers. Upon single use, any residual balance remaining on the credit will be forfeited.

Do write templates like this

Because you purchased an ABC-XYZ Company two-factor authentication hardware token before December 6, 2015, the university gave you a $15 single-use credit in your Campus Points accounts. You can use this credit anywhere Campus Points are accepted. The credit expires on December 6, 2016. (Please review the fine print about using this credit.)

Connect with Customers

If they’re well-written and carefully maintained, email templates help new agents get up to speed quickly, enable service desk managers to store and update information in a central location, and improve email agents’ productivity. Templates themselves don’t make agents sound like robots. Badly written, canned-sounding, brand-voice-lacking, legalistic templates do. But well-written, natural-language templates with lots of room for free-text can connect with customers really well.


Leslie O'Flahavan has delivered writing courses for support center staff, customer service agents, and social media managers, helping thousands of professionals hone their customer-focused writing skills. She helps support organizations train agents to write well in all service channels, measure the quality of their writing, and revise and maintain their entire library of canned answers. Leslie is the coauthor of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents. Visit her E-Write website, follow her on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.


Tag(s): technical support, supportworld, support center, customer experience

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