As more and more utilities invest in e-mail technology to provide customer support, it’s important that they strive to incorporate the human element into this technology.
While e-mail can reduce the amount of time invested with each customer interaction, it’s important to realize that you are sacrificing the human element. To the greatest degree possible, e-mails should communicate the right message not only in word choice, content and appearance, but in the tone of the e-mail. Just as they need telephone training, a utility’s customer service employees also need e-mail training.
Following are 10 steps to greater customer service e-mail.
1. Use a helpful subject line. The subject line helps the customer know the message is a response to his or her inquiry. Subject lines such as ‘Reference # 0236862’ tell your customer absolutely nothing. Oftentimes, these can be mistaken for spam and deleted. That’s the last thing you want to happen and it leaves customers wondering why they haven’t heard back from their utility.
2. Respond promptly. Because e-mail messages are sent instantly, customers expect a fast response. Don’t disappoint them. Better yet, impress them with a prompt reply.
3. Personalize the response. Address the customer by name and personalize your response by repeating details from the customer’s inquiry in the opening paragraph of your reply. Sign the message with a name, not the anonymous “customer service department.” Let the customer know a real human being sent the message.
4. Answer all the customer’s questions. If you don’t have the information to give an answer to a question, let the customer know and tell them when they can expect an answer and from whom. Customers appreciate the candor. And please, do NOT make your answer a referral to your Web site. The customer may have already visited your Web site and still needs more information.
5. Make it possible for the customer to take action. If your customer can or should do something after reading your response, include the information needed to take action within the body of your e-mail reply.
6. Solve the customer’s problem. This is the gold standard of customer service and involves more than just answering a question. Restate the problem as you understood it from reading their e-mail. Follow the restated problem with your solution. Be specific! Omitting information leads to more e-mails and frustration on everyone’s part.
7. Use a polite, positive and personal tone. Let your customers know you value their business and want to keep them as customers. Use phrases that tell your customers you appreciate them. A simple “thank you for writing” can work wonders.
8. Write clearly and simply. Write in an active voice that emphasizes what the customer should do and what action your company will take. Keep your e-mail responses free of jargon, confusing idioms and regional expressions.
9. Proofread for mechanical errors. Errors give the impression that the company is careless and does not care about the customer. Double-check all content in the e-mail.
10. Make it easy for customers to contact you. Provide a phone number so customers have an alternate way of contacting you if they have further questions, if the problem is not solved or if their e-mail system is down.
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.