+44 (0)1273 732 888
How to write to happy customers
Author : Catie Holdridge
Posted : 26 / 07 / 12
Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’
Business letter writers may not have been his target demographic when he said it, but – if that’s your job – you might find his a good mantra to keep in mind.
Talking the same language means sharing the same values and opinions – surely the first steps to a fruitful relationship. Consider the following ways of speaking to your customers and they might just take you – and your company – to their hearts for life.
While company letter writers will spend a lot of their time dealing with complaints, fortunately some people will get in touch with more positive motivations. They might be giving praise for a job exceedingly well done, making thoughtful suggestions, or even presenting constructive criticism in a friendly or witty style.
It is just as important to get back to these customers, to keep the good feeling going by taking the opportunity to say you’re happy they’re happy; that they are valued and their opinions matter. Without even realising, your customers will likely see you through rose-tinted glasses, and may well spread the news. And there’s nothing like good word of mouth to reinforce your reputation.
Supposing a customer wrote a friendly, cheerful letter along the lines of:
Dear Mr Saver
I just wanted to let you know what great staff you’ve got at SafeSavers in Brighton.
I was having a nightmare trying to find exactly the right kind of gluten-free biscuits for my mum (who’s just found out she’s got coeliac disease, poor thing!). I’d been to three different shops already and was beginning to lose hope …
I was obviously looking a bit lost, and one of your lovely sales assistants asked me if they could help. And – thank goodness – she could. She showed me to the ‘special diets’ section, but there weren’t any on the shelves. Just as I was ready to admit defeat, she offered to check the storeroom. Five minutes later – success! So now my mum can enjoy her cuppa and biscuit once again!
I think the girl’s name was Jessie. I do hope you can let her know how much her help meant to me – do you have any kind of reward system for staff?
All the best
Now imagine this happy customer received a reply that began something like this:
Dear Miss Singer
Further to your recent letter, the SafeSavers area manager in Brighton has been contacted.
A staff reward scheme was introduced as part of the company’s customer care initiative, and as soon as the member of staff in question has been located, this will be actioned …
OK, so we’ve gone a bit OTT here, but as you can see, this kind of overly formal writing sounds like there isn’t a real person behind it at all. Our Miss Singer might well feel vaguely snubbed. And the good feeling of her shopping experience will probably fade behind this cold, standardised language.
Much better to write in a voice that is similar to how you’d speak: being too formal can sound cold and overly official. Be grammatical; spell and punctuate correctly, but try using contractions (such as ‘I’d’ instead of ‘I would’, ‘didn’t’ instead of ‘did not’ and so on) and avoid phrases such as, ‘Further to your recent communication… .’ You wouldn’t use those words if you picked up the phone to them. Use naturalistic, friendly openings; for example, ‘I was delighted to hear…’ or simply, ‘Thanks for your letter…’.
Another way to warm up your language is by mentioning people and using personal pronouns, such as ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’. The company’s reply above uses the passive voice (where the ‘doer’ in the sentence comes after the action – or is cut out completely) far too much – which results in people being almost completely absent (for more on using the active voice, see our feature Policy for the people). The second paragraph could be much friendlier in the active voice and by using pronouns:
We love getting the opportunity to reward our colleagues. Once we find the girl who saved your mum’s tea break, we’ll be sure to pass on your thanks …
Our clients Marks & Spencer have experienced the benefits of this approach first-hand. Jo Rook, Executive Customer Service Manager for M&S Retail, says, ‘Talking to customers in the tone of voice they use themselves shows that you’ve listened to them, taken the time to understand them, and want to make sure that your response is easy for them to understand. They will appreciate the effort you’ve taken.’
If the customer has written in a humorous way, or even penned a poem (yes, really, they do), try to match them style for style. (Best check your company’s standpoint or style guidelines before you begin.) Collaborate with a colleague if you find it tricky to begin with: it’ll be worth it. Your reply could well become a talking point and excellent advertising for your customer service.
‘Sometimes customers don’t want a dry response,’ Jo points out. ‘A little bit of humour can buy a lot of good will – when used responsibly.’
Of course, her last point is worth noting. We’re certainly not advocating sending dirty limericks, a transcript of your stand-up act or any poem featuring the word ‘Nantucket’.
Image credit: Peggy_Marco / Pixabay
Catie joined Emphasis with an English literature and creative writing degree and a keen interest in what makes language work. Having researched and written dozens of articles for the Emphasis blog, she now knows more about the intricacies of effective professional writing than she ever thought possible.
She produced and co-wrote our online training programme, Emphasis 360, and these days oversees all the Emphasis marketing efforts. And she keeps office repartee at a suitably literary level.
Posted by: Rob Ashton
16 / 12 / 15
At this time of year, our thoughts inevitably turn to fresh starts and making resolutions for better ways to live and work. If you’ve pledged to give up cake or make the gym your second home, you’re certainly in good company. My friend Philippa is one of many who have declared this ‘Dry January’ (which […]
Posted by: Jacob Funnell
16 / 10 / 15
When you’ve finished an email, all you need is a friendly, professional sign off. And there’s one popular choice. That choice is ‘Kind regards’. For most work emails, it’s hard to go wrong with this. It’s succinct and it’s professional. Yet every week, I get emails from people who sign off like this: ‘Kind Regards’. So […]
Advice and tips (173)
Choose your words wisely (46)
Plain English (26)
Language abuse (22)
60-second fix (21)
Bids and tenders (20)
Report writing (20)
Psychology and linguistics (18)
Reader-centred writing (17)
Online and social media (16)
Technical writing (13)
Presentations and speeches (12)
News from Emphasis (12)
International issues (11)
Customer relations (10)
Letters and CVs (10)
Numbers and finance (9)
Design and formatting (9)
Courses for companies (8)
Writing news stories (5)
Literacy and education (5)
Legal writing (4)
Style guide (4)
Development of English (4)
Pitches and proposals (3)
Writing for media (3)
PDF downloads (3)
Social media (3)
Conferences and exhibitions (2)
Learning and development (2)
Book reviews (1)
Policies and procedures (1)