“Hi Myra. What advice can you share about best practices for responding to a customer’s complaint over email?”
Hi Albert. Every email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature line, it puts your corporate reputation on the line, and at the fingertips of a disgruntled customer, your emails can be plastered all over the Internet by way of a powerful blog.
Nearly half of all routine customer service questions emailed are not answered adequately. Companies are addressing only a portion of customers’ questions or the answers they give leave customers thinking a robot must have read the email.
Another big problem with consumer email response is many emails are just plain sloppy. They are filled with mistakes that make companies look unprofessional. Most people don’t review or edit their emails – they just hit “send”- and when they do, they are putting an entire brand’s credibility on the line.
Email customer service is supposed to give customers quicker answers and solutions while allowing companies to slash operations costs. When email threads go back and forth unnecessarily because questions aren’t answered, operations costs exceed the cost of telephone interactions. And sloppy emails rob companies of credibility.
So you need to carefully craft and proof your emails. How do you do it? Here are 7 basic steps for you.
Step One- Read the customer’s email in its entirety
Forty-six percent of consumers opening emails from companies are frustrated to discover that their question(s) was not answered. This often happens because employees stop at the first problem described in the email and they, at best, skim the rest of the email. Read the entire email before typing anything.
An excellent way to ensure you respond to every question in the customer’s email is to copy the customer’s email and paste it into your reply back. After pasting the customer’s content into your reply, go paragraph by paragraph through the customer’s email and type your response after each of the customer’s paragraphs. You are, in essence, taking the customer’s email and breaking it into little workable chunks and easily addressing every single issue. (After addressing the customer’s questions completely, you, of course, delete the pasted paragraphs.)
Tip – I often copy exact words and phrases that the customer uses in her initial email and paste it into my reply. This allows me to “mirror” the customer’s language and it shows that I truly did read the customer’s email.
Step Two- Open your email with “Thank you.”
A lot of companies begin complaint response emails with: “We have received your email dated…” Don’t do this. The fact that you’re responding to the email is irrefutable proof that you have received the customer’s email. Instead of wasting words, immediately go into a response designed to restore the customer’s confidence and regain their goodwill.
My favorite approach to beginning a complaint letter is to begin by expressing appreciation for the feedback. Here are some ways to express appreciation for customer feedback:
“Thank you for taking the time to write to us.”
“Thank you for your email. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”
“Thank you so much for taking the time to write to us. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify what we think has happened.” (This is ideal for a response email to a customer who is actually responsible for the error or when you cannot honor the customer’s request for a refund or exchange.)
Step Three – Apologize
Most company replies to emails that describe problems do not include an apology. To not apologize to a customer who has experienced a problem is to miss an opportunity. Making an apology to customers after things go wrong is positively related to satisfaction with the company’s “recovery.” When your employees apologize to customers, they convey politeness, courtesy, concern, effort, and empathy.
Let me let you in on a little secret: an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault. And it’s not even about placing blame. The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill.
I believe in apologizing to the customer whether the problem they experienced was a result of an act of nature, a third party, or even the customer. It goes without saying that I believe that we must apologize when the problem is the fault of the company.
Here’s how you can apologize when the problem is not the company’s fault:
- “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.”
- “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”
- “I’m sorry. I feel awful about your problem.”
Step Four –Explain why or how the problem happened
A vital, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem happened. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust.
In an article titled, Manage Complaints to Enhance Loyalty, John Goodman says, “In many case, a clear, believable explanation as to why the policy or performance is reasonable will at least mollify the customer and, in some case, satisfy him or her.”
Providing an explanation can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for taking the time to let us know about _____. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”
Customers will always appreciate you taking the time to explain why the problem occurred and again, this gesture on your part helps to reestablish trust.
Step Five- Offer compensation if applicable
When the problem is clearly the fault of the company, recompense (in the form of discounts, free merchandise, refunds, gift cards, coupons, and product samples) will help you restore customer confidence and regain goodwill. Our research has found that 58% of complaining consumers who received something in the mail following their contact with the company were delighted, versus only 40% of those who did not receive anything.
Don’t hold back when it comes to compensating customers after a service failure. Your reward will be increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and powerfully persuasive positive word-of-mouth advertising.
Bonus Step – Surprise & Delight
This step is optional, but I highly recommend it. Surprise and Delight is all about inspiring a feeling of astonishment through unexpectedness.
One of my clients in the beauty industry is maximizing surprise & delight by creatively using gift cards in a way that is generating profits. They used to compensate customers dollar-for-dollar; a $3 overcharge was resolved with a $3 check. Makes sense doesn’t it? Well, now they give a $10 gift card for a $3 overcharge. The customer is WOW’d. But not only is the customer WOW’d and telling her girlfriends about the unexpected gift card, but the company is enjoying a redemption rate of 67% with customers spending 2x the gift card amount in the store.
Try a little surprise & delight and you’ll get your customers talking and, if you design it right, you’ll also enjoy growth as a direct result of the WOW factor.
Step Six – Proof your email!
Grammar gaffes make your company look bad. You and I both know spell check (and even grammar check) won’t catch everything. You are going to have to invest a little time to read and re-read every line of your emails to make sure they look and read professional. Here are some hard and fast email proofing tips:
- Point with your finger and read one word at a time. Yes, this will take some time, but you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you capture this way.
- Read your email aloud and silently.
- Proof for only one type of mistake at a time. Do one read through just for punctuation, another for word usage, and another for accuracy of your message.
- Print your email out and read it.
- Start at the final paragraph of your email and read it backwards.
Step Seven- Respond as quickly as reasonably possible
The average company takes 2 days (46 hours) to respond to a customer’s email. This is not okay with customers. You need to shoot for responding to emails within 2-4 hours. Is this easy? No, but you need to align your processes and manpower to make it happen.
And here’s why: A speedy response will improve your corporate credibility with consumers and it boosts customer satisfaction. Research shows the longer it takes for companies to respond to email complaints, the greater the customer’s perception that they have been treated unfairly.
Every email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature line, it puts your reputation on the line, and it forms a binding document between you and the customer. Make sure your message is professional, actively works to regain customer goodwill, and is free of embarrassing gaffes. Follow these simple seven steps and your emails will bless you, rather than curse you.
How to instantly make emails more personable
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