Four Tips to Avoid Email Blunders

Communication through electronic mediums can be treacherous. Current estimates say that we get as much as 80 percent of our information through non-verbal cues. That means that when our communication is limited to written word only, both the communicator and the receiver are at a disadvantage.

This disadvantage can be especially pronounced when you’re communicating with your customer through email. Typically, the customer wants something from you or you want something from the customer. It goes without saying that the stakes are higher for the business. Unhappy customers can leave a trail of negativity that stretches from Facebook to Tumblr.

If only there were some way you could avoid email blunders. Some place you could go, for a quick summary of email best practices. Perhaps a blog written by the support specialist at a company that’s been in the tech business for close to 20 years…

Never fear! Mercury’s got you covered! Here are our top four tips for effective customer service emails.

Shore up the basics

Of all the email faux pas you can make, many customers find spelling and grammar errors to be the most offensive. How can they trust you with their money and business when you insist on butchering the English language in front of them? Luckily for you, it’s easy to make sure your emails are up to snuff. Here are a few things that you can do to make sure your emails sound professional.


  1. Paste the body of the email into Microsoft Word. Not only will it show you spelling and grammar errors, but it will tell you what those errors are. If you pay attention to the kinds of errors you make the most often, you can learn from your mistakes and avoid making those same errors in the future.
  2. Read the email aloud verbatim. That’s right! We’re going all the way back to English Composition 101. Your brain is very good at filling in gaps and identifying patterns, especially when you’re reading silently to yourself. Reading an email out loud can sometimes help you catch things your trying-to-be-helpful brain would otherwise overlook.
  3. Run it past a co-worker. Despite our best efforts, everyone occasionally needs a little help. As in most things, the eyes have it!

Use clear, precise language

Now is not the time to break out your Shakespearean prose. Complicated sentence structures and verbose phrasing are tried and true ways of confusing your customers. Here are some handy ways to make sure your emails are clear and polite.

  1. Make a conscious effort to use active voice, rather than passive voice. An easy way to tell which voice you’re using is by placing the phrase “with zombies” after the verb. If the sentence no longer makes sense, then you, my friend, are an active agent.
    • This is active (because the sentence makes no sense): I ate (with zombies) an apple.
    • This is passive: The apple was eaten (with zombies).
  2. Mirror your customer’s language. Who cares if your customer calls them TP-thingies rather than TPS Reports. A customer’s phrasing and overall composition tells you how they’re most comfortable communicating. Pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, then try to communicate on their level.

Let’s get visual, visual!

Email is a visual medium after all. You can use a lot of the same principles that are used in other web communication platforms to clarify your meaning.

  1. Use whitespace to highlight what’s important. In a nutshell, whitespace involves arranging your document so that it’s easy to see what’s important. Pay attention to your fonts, your line spacing, and how easy it is to find the main points of the email.
  2. Use pictures, graphs, or videos when appropriate. You’d be surprised what a screenshot, Microsoft Paint and a few helpful arrows can accomplish. Even if a picture isn’t actually worth a thousand words, it’s certainly worth a thousand positive customer experiences.

Know when to fold ‘em.

There’s a fine line between an engaging back-and-forth and a communication conundrum. Even if an idea is very simple, if your customer doesn’t understand you, it may be time to pick up the phone. Here are a few signs you can use to determine when a phone call might be in order.

Hand picking up telephone

  1. You’re having a hard time summarizing the information in 2 – 3 small paragraphs. No one wants to open their email and see a book. Even if your email is crystal clear, your customer may not have the patience or the time to read it all. If you can’t concisely convey your message, your message may be too complicated for an email.
  2. Your customer has asked you the same thing multiple times. This is a clear sign of a communication disconnect. You could continue to find new ways of saying the same thing, or ask clarifying questions find out exactly what the customer is confused about. There’s nothing inherently wrong with beating a dead horse. (A jk from legal, there are several moral, if not legal, issues raised by the propensity to beat dead horses. Mercury in no way condones the abuse of animals, regardless of their life status). You could also avoid the likely mounting frustration that both you and your customer feel, and give them a call.
  3. Your customer has asked you to do two things are inherently opposite in the scope of your business. This usually means the customer is not sure what they want, or they’re not sure what the scope of your business is. This is an opportunity for you to have a genuine, sales-leaning discussion about your client’s goals and expectations. If you can help them reach their goals, great! It’s the start of a beautiful relationship. If not, perhaps you can steer them towards someone who can. Either way, you’ve left the customer with a positive impression of your business.

All good things…

In conclusion, not everyone is going to be a communications savant. That doesn’t mean you can’t provide positive experiences that endear you to your customers. Just follow these tips and keep your customer’s needs in mind, and you’re sure to have happy, well-cared for customers.

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