We take a look at how to put together a great customer service letter, giving examples to bring best practice to life.
The Four-Part Approach
Here is a four-step approach to help improve customer service letters, as recommended by Fran Fish of Mazaru.
Use simple, plain English. No jargon. Use headings and bullet points, so that the content is easy to follow and read.
Make sure there are no typos and all the provided information is “correct”. But the letter should also look and read the part – it should “look and sound like your brand.”
Answer all the questions that have been asked (and any that may come after). Get to the point quickly, as that’s the best way to reduce frustration and repeat contacts.
Using the right tone, that fits the reader (or customer) and the reason you’re contacting them. We expect the tone used in an apology letter to be different from the tone used in a special-offer email.
Fran also recommends that you “keep it personal and human and consider if a letter or email is really the right medium. Sometimes a quick, good-old-fashioned call works best.”
Keep it personal and human and consider if a letter or email is really the right medium. Sometimes a quick, good-old-fashioned call works best.
Remember, while in most cases it is good to stick to a customer’s channel preference, it is sometimes best to pick up the phone. For example, if the customer has sent three or more letters over an issue, it might be best to pick up the phone to nip any rising customer frustration in the bud.
An Example of How to Use This Four-Stage Approach
As an example of how this four-part approach can be made actionable, below are two examples of customer service letters that were written by a car insurance company in response to the same customer query.
The first response is how the company originally thought of replying to the customer, following their old procedures. The second example is a rewrite of the first, which was created under the guidance of the four-stage approach.
The letters are responses to a customer query which asked: “Am I covered if my kids’ laptops get stolen out of the car while I’m holiday?” The customer’s query letter was signed off with both their first and last name.
The Original Letter (The Bad Example)
Dear Mr [SURNAME]Thank you for your enquiry.
We apologise for the delay in our response.
Personal Belongings cover is provided for the loss of or damage to (some) personal effects while in or on the insured car.
The insured must take reasonable care of the property and this does not extend to money, credit or debit cards. The cover is also not provided for soft-top/open cars. The amount payable will be shown on the Policy Schedule. This covers you up to £300 per claim.
I hope this answers your query.
The Rewritten Letter (The Good Example)
Hi [First name],Thanks for getting in touch about your kids’ iPads. Sorry it’s taken me a little longer to reply.
If the iPads were stolen from your car we’d cover up to £300 of their value.
Tip: It’s worth checking to see if your home insurance will cover a higher value.
Just so you know, if the worst does happen (and you want to make a claim), we’ll need you to have taken ‘reasonable care of the property’. That means:
- lock the doors, boot and roof box,
- close the roof and the windows,
- take your car keys with you and
- put the iPads out of sight in the glove compartment, boot or roof box when you leave the car.
I also need to tell you that we don’t cover theft from open and soft-top cars. You’ll find more information about what is and isn’t covered in our Policy Schedule online.
If you decide to take out insurance with us, the fastest and easiest way is to apply online.
If there’s anything else I can help you with, please let me know.
Have a great holiday!
How Has the Letter Been Adapted for the Better?
Fran Fish takes us through how the rewrite is an improvement in terms of the “clear, credible, answered and tone criteria”.
- Gets to the point quickly
- Meets and matches the customer’s needs
- ‘Easiest way is to apply online’ – influences customer’s choice of service channel
- Uses bullets to lay out information in easy-to-read format
- Includes insurance detail – demonstrates knowledge and expertise
- ‘Tip’ gives insurance options – builds trust
- Addresses the customer’s query first ‘we’d cover up to £300 of their value
- Less effort for the customer – no need to go digging around for the Policy Schedule
- Fits the nature of the query
- Empathetic and personal tone used
How Did Switching to the Four-Stage Approach Benefit the Car Insurance Company?
Mazaru and independent researchers ICM shared both car insurance letter examples with 2,000 consumers. The consumers were asked to share preferences and ‘next actions’, when comparing the two letters.
The results suggested that the car insurance company could benefit in each of the following ways by permanently switching to the style of the rewrite:
- Less overall contact – 19% fewer consumers said they’d need to get more information
- Sales enquiries increased – 24% more consumers said they’d go on and ask for a quote
- Satisfaction scores increased – 27% more rated their customer satisfaction of the response ‘high’, i.e. 7–10 out of 10
- Channel shift increased – 9% more consumers said they’d go online to get a quote
- Advocacy / NPS increased – 22% more said they would go on and recommend the insurer to friends or family
A Template Example of a Good Customer Service Letter
After reviewing the great results of the rewritten customer service letter, we wanted to create a template for a customer letter that was clear, credible, answered and used the correct tone.
So, we went back to Fran Fish, who provided us with the following:
[title last name/first name],[Title]
Subject of letter (not too formal, be clear)
Dear [title last name/first name],
If it’s a reply, say thanks for getting in touch about [topic].
Get straight to the point
What does the customer want to know? Why have you sent them this letter? If it’s an apology, then say sorry here.
Keep the reader’s attention
Break up long chunks of text into short sentences.
Stick to one idea per paragraph/sentence. This helps to keep things clear.
Rather than long lists, use bullets – remembering:
- In your
- Tone of voice
Final details, call to action
Give the customer the info they need. Tell them what they should do and give them everything they need to do it.
For further reassurance
Please let us know if you need anything else. Let them know the best way to get information online or how to contact (and when).
E.g. You can email us at [address] or give us a call on [number]. We’re here Monday to Friday, from 8am to 5pm.
Advisor’s own name
While many may question the use of templates, this example will help the contact centre to create a framework to make communication easier for advisors across all channels. It provides an easy-to-follow structure, while giving guidelines on where to personalise the response.
Templates do have their value, as Fran tells us: “They just need to be really well constructed, form part of an overall framework and be supported by training and QA (Quality Assurance). It’s when templates are created arbitrarily and aren’t updated that they become a challenge.”
Templates just need to be really well constructed, form part of an overall framework and be supported by training and QA (Quality Assurance).
So, when we advise you to use a template, it is better to present guidelines in a structure like the example above. Avoid templates with most of the wording already filled out, which advisors are asked to: “[INSERT NAME]” or “[INSERT LOCATION]”.
For great advice on reviewing your letter templates, read our article: Customer Service Emails and Letters: How to Review and Improve Your Templates
The 10 Keys to a Great Customer Service Letter
We have come up with a list of letter-writing tips to be shared with advisors alongside the template highlighted above.
1. Start by Saying “Thank You”
Your customers don’t have to shop with you. Acknowledging this is a great start to the conversation. Straight after the thank you is given, get into the “meat” of the conversation by answering all the points in order of importance to the customer.
After the initial thank you, it doesn’t hurt to continue to stress that “your business is very much appreciated”. As a customer, you don’t feel like you are being taken for granted.
2. Use Everyday Language and Stick to One Idea per Sentence
It is best for an advisor to write as if they were explaining things to a friend or family member. So, try to break up long chunks of information into short sentences, stick to one idea per sentence and use simple words instead of complex phrases and acronyms.
As Fran Fish says: “Writing for service is hard. At school, we’re taught to form complex sentences and paragraphs and to build up our vocabulary. For service, we need to pare this down, to share information in a much simpler way.”
“So, if organisations are struggling to tackle communication channels, they’re in good company!”
3. Use Headings and Bullet Point Large Chunks of Information
In long letters, headings can be a great way to segment the text and improve structure.
Also, while it’s good to break up large blocks of information into simple sentences, bullet points are also useful, as they help to provide a better visual impact than big paragraphs of information.
If you open up a letter and all you see is words and long paragraphs, in the first instance, it’s hard to understand what’s important.
Fran adds: “If you open up a letter and all you see is words and long paragraphs, in the first instance, it’s hard to understand what’s important. Bullet points and headings are especially useful for this.”
“Headings are especially great, as they help to help signpost to the reader what is relevant to them, making the letter as clean and simple as possible.”
4. Avoid Cold, Overly Formal Language
There’s a lot of confusion about what “professional” means in letter writing for customer service. Many believe “we need to sound and write as a professional company”, yet this is a common misconception and often leads to companies being overly formal.
This is according to Fran, who says: “Formal language is cold and distancing. It’s not right for customer service. There are simple techniques that can be learned to make letters professional and clear, without making them formal.”
The trick is developing a tone of voice that fits your brand. Train advisors to be warm, empathetic and positive and you’re halfway there, while using active language instead of passive language is also important.
Active language helps to take ownership of the customer query. You can test that you’re writing in the active by adding the words “by robots” to the end of each sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, it is written in the passive. However, if it doesn’t, it is written in the active.
The “by robots” tip is discussed in more detail in our article: 10 Best Practices to Improve Live Chat
5. Direct the Customer to any Supportive Documents
To add value to the letter, direct the customer to any additional documents or guidance notes. This can help the customer to easily find information for themselves and prevent them from having to write to the contact centre again.
In turn, this helps to reduce repeat customer contacts. However, make sure further reassurance is offered, so the customer feels happy to contact again with another query.
6. Set Expectations With Timeframes
While this won’t be applicable to all query types, offering next steps and time expectations is key when handling complaints, as they help to reassure customers.
As Fran says: “With complaint handling, all customers are really interested in is ‘are you listening to me?’ ‘Do you care about me?’ And ‘what are you going to do about it?'”
With complaint handling, all customers are really interested in is ‘are you listening to me?’ ‘Do you care about me?’ And ‘what are you going to do about it?’
Promotional offers, thank-you letters and booking confirmation don’t necessarily need “next steps” and, in some cases, offering them in a letter may increase contacts.
7. Open the Dialogue for any Problems to Be Quickly Rectified
The template presented earlier gives further reassurance to the customer, offering them the chance to contact again and presenting further contact details. This helps to open the dialogue further.
Most customers are familiar with the feeling of dread that comes with making a complaint to a company… How long will I wait on hold? Will they believe me? Will my issue be resolved?
Opening up the dialogue early and promising a positive response helps to remove this worry from any follow-up contact that may be necessary.
8. Remember That Listening Isn’t Just for Phone Calls
Fran believes that “we all have the ability to be better listeners, improve our communication skills and build rapport though language and words.”
Customers like to feel as though they are being listened to. In fact, it is a basic expectation. So, try to use the same words as the customer did when describing their issue, to underline that they have been listened to, and mirror their preferred language choices to build rapport.
Also, see how the example template asked the advisor to say “thanks for getting in touch about…” The “about section” is important as it offers the advisor the opportunity to demonstrate that they were listening, while it also helps to personalise the letter.
9. If Asking for Feedback, Explain Why It’s Important
Encourage customers to give feedback for the benefit of the community and to help future customers in their purchasing decisions.
By doing this, the advisor can help to reassure customers that the time they spend giving feedback isn’t just a “back-patting” exercise.
10. Don’t String Together Good Paragraphs From Different Letters
According to Fran: “What you may decide to do, if you have really well-written sentences stored in your knowledge base, is to string them together to form your letter. But this could end badly.”
“If someone decides to pull paragraphs from different types of letters together, but the intended letter is dealing with one particular thing, it might not be appropriate to have all of that content in there.”
The letter has to have a logical flow. You don’t want to be sending out letters that start with “sorry” but end with a promotional offer. This will only frustrate an already disappointed customer.
Find out our advice for saying sorry properly in our article: Customer Service Apologies – Keeping Sorry Fresh and Sincere
Three Good Examples of Different Types of Letters
Below are three great examples of different types of customer service letters.
Response to a Complaint
Here is a good response to a customer complaint about their credit profile.
Our response to your complaint
Dear [title last name/first name],
Thank you for getting in touch with us about your credit file. After looking into this for you, I’ve included my findings in this letter.
It might be easier to talk about this over the phone, so please give me a call if that would be helpful. I did try to call you a few times on [date] and [date] but couldn’t reach you.
You’ve been in touch with us because you believe we have registered “default” or “repossession” on your credit file.
Checking your credit file
I’ve checked your payment history between [date] and [date] and found that each payment has been made on time. I could also see that you made your final payment of [£amount] on [date], which settled your account early.
I can confirm that we have recorded each payment, including your final settlement, as “paid on time” and have not registered a “default” or “repossession” against your credit file.
I hope that this answers your question and addresses your complaint. If you’d like to discuss this with me over the phone, please get in touch. You’ll find my number at the top of this letter.
5 Good Things About This Example
- The company say thank you immediately
- They offer a phone call, in case the reader wants to speed up the process
- They use headings to highlight the different stages of the process
- They use “I” and not “we” (as in the company) to highlight that someone is taking ownership of the customer’s issue
- They use the customer’s words, such as “default” or “repossession”, to directly respond to the customer’s problem
A Service Notice
In this example, a customer service letter is used to warn residents of repair and maintenance work.
We’re carrying out some work in your street.
We need to do some important repair and maintenance work outside [address].
This means parking will be restricted – we’ll put out cones to show you where you won’t be able to park.
[Time and date]
We’ll be finished by
[Time and date]
We’re sorry for the inconvenience – we’ll get the work done as quickly as we can. You can also find out more about why this happening and read regular updates on our website – just go to TheWaterCompany.com/streetworks
If you would like to contact us directly, call: 01234567890. You can also email: email@example.com
5 Good Things About This Example
- The company put the most important information first, in a large font
- They use headings to clearly signpost when and where, so this impact on the reader becomes immediately obvious
- They offer reassurance to the reader that this will not be a long process
- They use an active tone of voice to highlight their urgency
- They highlight where the reader can go for further information
A Thank You Letter
While this may not be a perfect letter, there are many things to like about this customer service letter, created by Barnyarns.
5 Good Things About This Example
- Barnyarns start by saying “thank you”
- They continue to stress that “your business is very much appreciated”
- They value quality
- They don’t just ask for your feedback – they explain why it is important
- They open the dialogue for any problems to be quickly rectified
…And 2 things they could improve on?
But while it includes a number of nice “ingredients”, here are two ways in which it could have been improved:
- Signing off with “Charlie from The Barnyarns Team” would have given it a bit more of a personal touch – especially if this was handwritten!
- This is a very useful template for what a good customer service letter should look like, but personalising it with Mr Smith could have made it even better…
For more on putting together a good thank-you letter, read our article: How to Write a Thank-You Letter to a Customer
Thanks to Mazaru for sharing each of the letter examples that we’ve used in this article.
To find more of our advice on writing for customer service, read our articles:
- “Dear Valued Customer” – 12 Steps to Writing a Great Customer Letter
- Dear Valued Customer – How NOT to Write a Customer Service Letter
- Positive Customer Service Language for Positive Conversations
Originally published in February 2016. Recently updated.