What not to write: 13 words and expressions to avoid in your customer support replies

In the name of customer love, please stop using these phrases. — Photo by Branden Tate on Unsplash

In the name of customer love, please stop using these phrases. — Photo by Branden Tate on Unsplash

What are the dos and don'ts for writing customer care emails? Whether you're in your first customer service job or you've managed a team for years: at some point, you've probably faced that question.

While each team will need to find their own way to express their brand's personality and add the human touch, some turns of phrase will always hurt your message. 

Read on to find out why, and what to write so your customers feel that you care. And if you'd like the least help finding the right words to write to your customers, we'd love to hear from you.

 

What not to write in acknowledgement emails

 

1. We confirm receipt of your e-mail.

Why you should avoid it: 

  • This sounds stuffy, complicated and bureaucratic.
  • The spelling "e-mail" may be fine if you want to write like Dickens — but it doesn't fit the 21st century. 

What to write instead:

  • We've received your email.
  • We've got your email.
  • Thanks for getting in touch.

 

2. One of our Customer Service Specialists will respond to you within 24 business hours from the time we receive your email.

Why you should avoid it:

  • Using team names can make your company feel siloed and difficult to deal with, so it's best to avoid them unless they're absolutely necessary.
  • Customers don't know about your business hours. For all they know, 24 business hours could be three days or three weeks, depending on how you run your business.
  • Don't add irrelevant or superfluous information, or people will try to figure out whether there's a hidden meaning. In linguistics, this rule is subsumed in Paul Grice's maxims of quantity and of relation. It's unnecessary and confusing to say "from the time we receive your email" in a message confirming that you have received it.

What to write instead:

  • One of our team will respond to you in the next three working days.
  • You'll have our reply within 24 hours.
  • We'll get back to you in the next few days.

 

3. If you have a more urgent issue that needs resolving please telephone on _____ where we will try to give a faster resolution.

Why you should avoid it:

  • This one sentence can easily double the number of customer queries you have to work through. People are impatient, and many won't wait for your email reply — no matter how non-urgent their issue. If you do offer faster service on the phone, the right place to say so is on your website. 
  • Please don't say "if you have an issue that needs resolving". Always assume that your customers wouldn't contact you if they didn't need help.
  • The verb "(to) telephone" sounds positively Victorian. That's fine if it fits with your brand — but please don't use it if you sell cutting-edge fashion or software.
  • In customer service, "(to) try" is to fail. It's a word that plants a seed of doubt in your customer's mind. Best to avoid anything that sounds noncommittal or raises suspicions of incompetence.

What to write instead:

  • In most cases, nothing.
  • In some industries, there will be situations where email is not the right way to get help — for example, medical or financial services.
    Here, you could write: "If you've lost your card / In an emergency, please call us immediately on ___________."

 

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Benjamin Franklin's view of great customer support? — Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Benjamin Franklin's view of great customer support? — Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

How not to reply to a customer email

 

4. Dear Valued Customer,

Why you should avoid it:

Most customers feel that if you value them, you'll know them by name.

What to write instead:

  • Use their name.
  • If you haven't got it, leave it off. A simple "Hi" or "Hello there" will work for casual brands, and "Good morning/afternoon/evening" is neutral enough for the more formal ones.

 

5. Please note, ...

Why you should avoid it:

Look at what follows. Would you write it if you didn't want the customer to take note?

What to write instead:

  • Nothing — just leave it off.
  • If something's particularly important, you could highlight it: "This bit is very important."

 

6. I need you to advise of ...

Why you should avoid it:

  • Telling the customer that you "need" them to do something immediately makes it seem like more effort. And making things easy for customers is the best way to create loyalty
  • In customer support, the one who should "advise" is the advisor. Don't give your customer the subconscious message that you're asking them to do your job.

What to write instead:

  • So I can _____ for you, could you tell me...?
  • Simply ask the question — for example: "How long was your train delayed?"

 

7. It would appear that there was an error made our end.

Why you should avoid it:

  • "It would appear" sounds very uncertain. If something's gone wrong, the customer will have more trust in you if you can at least be sure that there's been a mistake. It's also a "weasel word": your customers may think that you're trying to shrug off responsibility for what's happened.
  • Don't use the passive voice, especially not when you're talking about errors you've made. Again, this comes across as not taking responsibility, which hurts your apology and damages customers' trust.

What to write instead:

  • We've made a mistake.
  • I've looked into this and found that we used the wrong....

 

8. I apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Why you should avoid it:

  • It's so formal and formulaic that it doesn't seem sincere.
  • What you're calling an inconvenience may well have been OK for the customer — and now you're practically inviting them to complain. Or perhaps it was a catastrophe for them, and you're belittling their situation.
  • "This may have caused" sounds very noncommittal and impersonal. 

What to write instead:

  • I'm sorry that... (details of what went wrong).

 

9. We hope that this information has been helpful.

Why you should avoid it:

  • If you've done your best to help the customer, there should be no need for hope. To inspire trust, make sure that you show confidence in your ability to help the customer.

What to write instead:

  • Nothing. Leave it off and instead use the examples from number 10, below.

 

10. If we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Why you should avoid it:

  • As a stock phrase, this offer of further help sounds insincere. 

What to write instead:

Find your own way to offer help to the customer. For example...

  • Please let me know if you have any more questions.
  • I'm always happy to help — just drop me a line if you need advice.
  • Let us know how you get on. Remember, we're only an email away if you need support.

 

11. My address and contact number are at the top of this letter.

Why you should avoid it:

  • Make it easy: if you want the customer to get back to you, put the necessary contact details right where they need them.
  • If you're sending an email, don't refer to a letter. Double check that you're not referring to the address and phone number on your printed letterhead, because that won't necessarily align with your email layout.

What to write instead:

  • Could you tell me ____? You can just hit reply — or call me on _______ if you prefer. I'm available... (times).
  • If you have a question, you can reach me directly on ______.

It's always a good idea to give those contact details in bold type.

Don't make your customers climb the steps, do the hard work and find their way through your company. — Photo by Håkon Sataøen on Unsplash

Don't make your customers climb the steps, do the hard work and find their way through your company. — Photo by Håkon Sataøen on Unsplash

Don't let it end like this

 

12. Please consider the environment before printing this email.

Why you should avoid it:

Two-thirds of all emails are now read on mobile devices. Printing emails by default is pretty much unheard-of by now.

What to write instead:

If you want to show off your eco credentials, add something specific that you do.

  • For example, if you use Ecosia for your web searches, you could say how many trees your searches have helped over a certain period.
  • You could also highlight an environmental charity you work with. 
  • Or if you've got eco labels and accreditations, you might want to add them.

 

13. Attachments to this email could contain software viruses which could damage your system.

Why you should avoid it:

It's alarming!

What to write instead:

This sentence usually forms part of a note stating the company isn't liable if there's a virus. Here are some less alarming versions:

  • If our emails are affected by a virus, we're not responsible for any loss caused as a result.
  • We check all our emails are virus-free when we send them. Still, we can't accept liability for any virus they may contain.

 

Over to you

Which words and expressions do you avoid? And as a customer, what do you never want to read again?