We reveal 12 steps to improve the letters you send out to customers.
1. Never Use an Anonymous Greeting
Starting a letter with “Dear Valued Customer”, “Dear Customer” or “Dear Occupier” is not the way to show customers that you care. If you really want to show that you value a customer, use their name.
I know that it can be tempting to bulk print letters in advance, but try to avoid this if you can. It is good practice to personalise customer interactions, to build relationships with customers, when possible.
2. If in Doubt Use Mr/Mrs Instead of First Names
It can be very tempting to adopt an informal approach to letters, but if you are writing in the early part of the customer lifetime, it is better to stick to Mr/Mrs.
If you do not have good records on Mr/ Mrs, then try and keep it formal with “Dear Alex Smith”.
While it seems best to use this Mr/Mrs… as a general principle, if calling the customer by their first name better suits the company’s brand image, there is certainly a case for doing so.
It also depends on the type of letter you are writing. If the letter has legal subtexts, it will be better to use Mr/Mrs…, yet a first name may be more appropriate when writing a thank-you letter.
Address customers how they would like to be addressed.
As a final point, if the letter is in reply to a letter that was sent in by the customer, the title that they used for themselves is the one that should be used in your response. Address customers how they would like to be addressed.
3. Get Someone to Check the Name Is Right… Before Sending It Out!
Always make sure that you address people by their correct name. ALWAYS!
A sure-fire way to avoid problems like this is to get someone to check it before the letters go out.
This should help you solve problems such as “Dear Smith” syndrome, where someone’s surname has been wrongly entered into the database.
Also, this should also enable you to pick up on “Dear Donald Duck”, if people have entered a false name.
While this might sound counter-productive, you do not want your basic mistakes to be the root cause of high customer effort, or to be shared online…
4. Thank Them for Their Custom
Businesses take customers for granted too often and don’t thank their customers enough.
It is very easy and simple to say, “Thank you for your order” or “Thank you for becoming a customer of [Company Name]” or maybe “We appreciate your business”.
But you could even go one step further and come up with a less generic sign-off, to show a vested interest in the customer as an individual.
For example, if the customer has been with the company for 10 years, the letter could include a statement like: “Thanks for your order and your 10+ years of support. It is greatly appreciated.”
Try using some of the words in the following article to show courtesy: The Best Courtesy Words and Phrases to Use in Customer Service
5. Offer Something in Return
If you really want to show that you value someone’s custom, then offering something in return can be very valuable.
However, try to make these “freebies” relevant to your company, as it is almost guaranteed to interest them in some way because they have done business with you before.
Here are a few examples of nice bonuses to add to customer letters:
- A £10 off voucher if you spend over £50 on your next order
- A code for 15% off your next order
- Free delivery on your next order
- A free copy of our magazine
A nice message to “set-up” these options for the customer would be something like “As a sign of our appreciation, I am enclosing…”
The use of the personal pronoun “I am” instead of “We are” implies to the reader that the writer is interested in them as an individual.
Creating this impression to the customer, that they have an “insider” within the business, is a great way of boosting customer loyalty.
6. Place Important Information in the PS Section
It is often said that the second-most-read part of a letter is the PS section, after the title or heading. In many cases, the person receiving the letter gives it little more than a quick scan before setting it aside.
Key information needs to be prominently displayed in a way that customers will notice.
One way to approach this is to include an eye-catching PS section, after the main body of the text.
This might be a summary of the main message of your letter, advice on what steps the customer should take next, or details of the offer that you are providing.
7. Add a Personal Touch
Customers like to feel that their service providers are run by real people.
Dealing with a faceless organisation is off-putting, so take simple steps to let them know exactly who they are dealing with.
It is easier to believe that an individual person cares about quality service than to believe a company does.
Introduce yourself by name, tell them something work-related about yourself, and personally thank them for their custom.
It is easier to believe that an individual person cares about quality service than to believe a company does.
Take a look at the example below of an advisor who made sure that she added a distinctive and personal touch.
In the letter, “Lanny” mentions that she’s often given a nickname and that the customer can call her by that nickname too, adding a personal element to the letter. This is a great rapport-building tool.
8. Adopt a Clear and Striking Layout
Sometimes you will have a lot of information to deliver. Writing dense blocks of text, running to hundreds of words, practically guarantees that the reader will not be able to absorb it all.
Make sure the design of the letter helps it communicate. When you need to include detailed terms and conditions, put them on a different page. If you don’t, the recipient might be put off reading it through.
Separate out the most important details and label them clearly with their own subheadings.
9. Use Simple, Straightforward Language
Your company jargon will probably be so familiar to you that you forget how it is less clear to others. Making customers work to decode your correspondence is not going to encourage engagement.
Consumers interpret jargon as nonsense at best. At worst, they see it as dishonesty, because it can appear as though you are hiding your real meaning.
Keep your message clear and direct, even in the fine print.
The letter should also be written in an upbeat tone, when appropriate. So, try including some of the following Positive Words, Phrases and Empathy Statements
10. Tell Customers How to Contact You
If a customer does need to contact you for further information, it should take as little effort as possible.
Not only do you need to provide a range of options such as phone, email or social media channels, you should display them prominently on your correspondence.
Customers should not need to seek out your details online if they have already received a letter from you. So why not include a clear contact directory, like the one here.
11. Tell Customers How to Stop Receiving Letters
Most communication these days can be handled in a format other than “snail mail”.
Perhaps providing hard copies is crucial to your business, or you are responding to a known customer preference. If not, moving away from letters can save you money and help you to meet environmental targets.
Customers are often keen to switch to other formats, as many of your letters will be looked at once and thrown away. However, customers are not likely to spend their own time finding out how to change to an alternative.
If you take the initiative and include information on switching in every letter, customers will take you up on it.
12. Finally… Hand Sign the Letter
Nothing says that you value a customer more than hand signing the letter.
Ideally, this should be in a different colour to the text. Blue ballpoint pen is quite good as it shows an impression on the page.
An alternative is to write the signature in fountain pen using water-soluble ink, so the reader (if they doubt that it is original) can smudge the ink.
This takes more effort, but if you are sending out fewer than 100 letters per day, it could prove a real return on investment.
Or, if the customer is really special, and you have the time to wow them, why not handwrite the whole thing. Customer service doesn’t get any more personalised than that!
For an example of a great customer service letter, read our article: How to Write a Good Customer Service Letter – Example
Three Bonus Tips
Here are three more tips, provided by Neil Martin of The First Word, on how to write a better customer service letter. These three points can also be applied to other written contact centre channels like email and live chat.
13. Write Down Each Point in Order of Importance to the Customer
All the key points of a customer service letter should be written in order of importance to the customer.
When customers write in, or even call in for that matter, they may describe things chronologically from beginning to end. But it might not be until the very last paragraph that they tell us what’s really important.
However, when writing a letter in response to a customer query, it is important to avoid responding to each issue “one by one” and instead take on the biggest problem first. This will help to ease the customer’s mind immediately.
Also, if a valuable freebie is offered along with the letter (point 5), it will likely be of strong interest to the customer. So, introduce the “freebie” closer to the top than the end.
14. Reflect Back on Their Experience
Whatever the reason of contacting the customer, reflecting back on the customer’s experience is an important way of demonstrating that they have been listened to.
Reflecting on a positive experience is a good way of reinforcing that you care about your customers, while reflecting back on a negative experience is key to showing empathy.
While the latter is more expected in a customer service environment, it is often ignored and a simple statement, such as “I’m sorry that you felt the need to complain,” is used instead.
If you simply use as statement like this, you are not showing that the other person is your sole focus and that you are taking personal responsibility for them. So you are missing the opportunity to build rapport.
15. Take Ownership for What Happened
We earlier discussed the benefit of using personal pronouns to take ownership of a customer’s problem. However, it is also important to stay in the active voice and not the passive.
To help check that you are using active voice, add the words “by robots” to the end of every sentence that you write. If the sentence still makes sense, then it is written in the passive voice. If it does not make sense, it’s written in the active voice.
For example, “your case has been reviewed by robots” DOES make sense and is therefore passive. So, it should be replaced by something like “I have looked over your case by robots“, which DOESN’T make sense and is therefore active.
This tip helps to ensure that you take ownership of a customer’s query, implying to the customer that they have an individual working their case for them from within the organisation.
This tip is discussed in greater detail, in our article: 10 Best Practices to Improve Live Chat
What has been your experience of writing good customer service letters?
For guidance on what not to include in a letter to a customer, try reading the following article: Dear Valued Customer – How NOT to Write a Customer Service Letter
Originally published in April 2016. Updated in May 2018.