Communicating Through Email

Email is often the most commonly used form of communication for support professionals.  Email is a one-dimensional form of communication which, although efficient, fails to account for human emotions as a vital component of communication. (Other forms of written communication including texting, instant messaging, and even old-fashioned paper letter writing suffer from the same limitation.)

In order for your customer or user to know you care, you must follow several important rules when communicating via email.

Here are some rules for using email appropriately to support your users and customers (many of these tips also apply to live chat or texting sessions):

  1. Descriptive subject lines. Think about the volume of email you receive each day. Wouldn't it be helpful if all emails had accurate and descriptive subject lines, so you could tell at a glance the nature of the email?
  2. Personalize. Use proper names such as Amy, Marissa, Andrew, or Shea. Don't use generic terms like "Dear User".
  3. Re-read the customer’s original email. Have you ever sent an email with three questions and received an answer to one? Then you send a second email with two questions and receive an answer to one. Finally, you send a third email with the last question and it finally gets answered. That's an exchange of six emails that should have been done in two. Re-read emails before you click send on your reply to ensure you've answered all questions and addressed all issues in the original email.
  4. Never assume a level of knowledge. Unless you know for sure that the person with whom you're emailing knows where to find a particular tool in an operating system or application, provide basic steps starting from the very beginning.
  5. Anticipate related issues. This can help head off frustration down the road by preventing similar issues from occurring.
  6. Bullet-point your response. Have you ever received an email with a huge glob of text? It's impossible to read. It makes your head short circuit. Use a bullet list to make it easy to scan and more likely that the reader will understand your message.
  7. Number your instructions. If you're providing instructions, number them to help your read avoid missing or repeating steps.
  8. Use proper grammar and spelling. There are grammandoes among us and, when you commit simple spelling and grammar issues, it makes them crazy. Not only that, but they'll have a hard time taking you seriously when you write there when you mean they're or your when you mean you're, for example. It's not hard to get it right and it can make a difference in your career. Really.
  9. Proofread. Don't trust spellcheck. Especially don't trust auto-correct. I once sent an email to a client with the subject line of Pre-training Email, but auto-correct changed it to Pre-drinking Email. Oops! That was embarrassing.
  10. It’s okay to use emojis (but don’t go overboard). Consider who  will be reading your email. For example, I wouldn't use emojis in an email to a C-level executive. Don't feel obligated to use them, either. If you're uncomfortable with them, don't use them. If you do use emojis, I recommend no more than one per email.
  11. Include your contact info. The idea here is to make it easy for people to contact you.
  12. When emailing to a group, use BCC unless it’s necessary for all group members to communicate with one another. Similarly, be careful about using Reply All unless it's truly necessary.