How do you respond to your business centre customers or prospects over email? Is it full of informal fillers and smiley faces, or do you stick to the straight and corporate?
We all have our own way of penning an email that may or may not conform to your company’s code of practice. In our age of brief texts, quick-fly comms and social media, personality and informality often win through.
But studies have shown that it’s not always the best tactic when trying to win over a customer.
Software Advice, an online research consultancy for customer support software, conducted a survey in July 2014 entitled “The Best ‘Tone’ for Email Customer Support“, that attempted to find out what tone customers prefer when dealing with a company representative over email.
To clarify, the report neatly defines ‘tone’ as the difference between “Oops, sorry!” and “We sincerely apologise.”
Tone alone has the power to send a customer packing, or to win around a disgruntled prospect. So the survey aimed to examine what kind of approach people prefer in various email-support situations. Here’s what they found:
General Email Communication
51% of respondents say they have no preference with regard to email tone, which is surprising in itself. But of those who did, nearly 65% said they preferred a casual tone, with 35% saying they preferred a formal approach in email support correspondence.
Perhaps more surprisingly, this distribution was consistent across all age and gender demographics. So regardless of who’s at the other end of your email, generally speaking, a casual approach is more likely to hit the right notes.
Positive vs Negative Scenarios
However, in situations where you are replying to a customer under negative circumstances, tone is particularly important – and a formal one at that.
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CSI found that the vast majority (78%) said agents using a casual tone when denying a request would leave them feeling dissatisfied, even frustrated. In fact, 50% said they would be “much less satisfied” in this scenario, because the language comes across as flippant or dismissive.
Conversely, when granting a request, only 35% said they would feel affected if a formal tone was used.
This suggests that frustrated customers are more likely to be receptive to tone, and an informal tone used in the wrong circumstances could have very negative consequences. However, those who are getting what they want are much less sensitive to the agent’s email manner, and an informal approach would be considered appropriate.
Smileys: A Step Too Far?
While informality may be a good all-round approach (unless you’re saying “no”), the survey suggests that emoticons and smileys are a step too far for some people.
CSI asked users to identify which of the following elements users would consider inappropriately casual, or too formal, in an email conversation:
- 35% found the use of emoticons, such as smiley faces, too informal for email customer support.
- 26% said the same about colloquial words such as “awesome” or “cool.”
- 67% didn’t find formal greetings, courtesy titles, or a lack of contractions overly formal.
So, here’s the nutshell. While a casual tone is considered a good all-rounder, the findings suggest it should only be used in neutral or positive scenarios. If you’re addressing customers in a negative situation, stick to formalities – and don’t try to win them over by being chummy. It’s more likely to frustrate them further.
And you should probably leave out the smiley faces altogether.
What do you think? Let us know ;o)