Customer Service Response Templates: 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Replying to Customer Emails

professional woman working on laptop creating customer service response templates

As customer service channels go, email has often been unfairly neglected. While it’s not as flashy as social media, and not as new and exciting as messaging apps, email deserves better than the stuffy, canned-sounding customer service response templates that so often land in customers’ inboxes.

It may surprise you to learn that email is still the most commonly used digital channel for customer service. However, customers’ enthusiasm for this channel doesn’t seem to be shared by companies. According to a recent study from SuperOffice, businesses of all sizes are still struggling with customer service via email:

  • 62% did not respond to emails from customers at all
  • 90% did not acknowledge when an email was received
  • 97% did not follow up further with the customer after the first email

These stats paint a grim picture of organizations’ ability to handle a communication channel that should be old hat. Why is email presenting such a challenge to customer care teams?

Perhaps because it’s difficult to empower your agents with the right skills, like how to respond to an unhappy customer email, how to craft empathetic email replies, and how to correctly answer incoming questions on a variety of topics.

This is where customer service response templates can save the day. They give agents a solid jumping-off point and enable faster replies. But with any template-based approach, it’s garbage in/garbage out. Your original customer service response templates need to be carefully crafted – otherwise, you’re not setting your agents up for success.

Follow these eight do’s and don’ts to make sure your team’s customer service email responses are on point.

1. DO respect customer expectations for email replies

More than 90% of consumers expect an email response time of one hour, and 15 minutes is considered the world-class industry benchmark. However, the average amount of time it takes for companies to respond to emails is 17 hours.

Why such a large discrepancy between the expectation and the reality? Call center email backlogs can be overwhelming. For example, many companies saw their email backlogs grow by 300% or more during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic as they fielded much higher volumes of questions from concerned customers. And once your backlogged emails reach the thousands (or in some cases, hundreds of thousands), it can feel like delivering a timely response is a Herculean task.

While having quick and easy email templates to pull from can help agents tackle the backlog, leveraging an email virtual assistant is the fastest way to get caught up.

2. DON’T send a canned auto-reply when responding with an actual resolution is possible

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, don’t you want to let the customer know their message didn’t disappear into cyberspace, never to be seen again?

Certainly, it makes sense to send the customer an auto-response that you received their email and you’re working to resolve their issue – but what if that auto-reply could actually be the resolution?

Using an AI-powered email virtual assistant to automate email replies allows you to respond near-instantly with a real answer instead of a generic confirmation message. More on how this works in #7 below.

However, if you’re not able to quickly resolve the case with email automation (e.g., for unique or new inquiries the AI hasn’t learned to process yet), it’s a good idea to send a quick message confirming the receipt of the email and offering a time frame to expect a response. But remember, the generic confirmation message is merely the next best thing to an instant resolution.

3. DO be positive, authentic, and empathetic

The best customer service responses examples have a few things in common: they express empathy for the customer’s situation, they’re unfailingly positive, and they feel authentic.

In all your customer service response templates, remember these tips for helping your agents meet this standard:

  • Use “I” instead of “We:” This subtle change conveys the agent is taking responsibility for the resolution, and that the customer is dealing with a real person instead of a faceless corporation.
  • Show understanding of the customer’s situation: Empathize with the customer using wording like, “I know how XYZ issue can be frustrating. I’d feel the same way.”
  • Remember it’s okay to apologize: Even if the agent didn’t create the problem, an apology can go a long way to helping the customer feel better. Try wording like: “I’m sorry to hear that XYZ issue happened.”
  • Personalize the reply: Use tokens within your email templates to include the customer’s name and any other relevant details (e.g., are they a loyalty member?) to make the template feel more personal. Keep in mind that customer data hygiene is key to this strategy – calling a customer the wrong name is never a good look.
  • Avoid clichés: Customers are turned off by generic phrases like, “Your letter is very important to us” and “We apologize for any inconvenience.” Your templates should strive for a more authentic, human feel.

And speaking of tone…

4. DON’T be overly formal in your customer service response templates

Using stiff, formal language in your customer service response templates isn’t doing your agents any favors. In fact, 65% of customers say that responding too formally “doesn’t establish reliable communication.” If you’re noticing that customers are repeatedly asking to speak with “a real person” when they are, in fact, already talking to an agent, it’s time to reconsider the tone of your customer interactions.

A less formal, friendlier tone will go further to build rapport and put customers at ease. However, beware of sounding too casual. For example, avoid slang and always keep things polite and professional. It’s possible to be courteous without sounding formal.

And even as you’re striving for a more friendly tone, correct grammar still matters. Customers will not trust agents that can’t write well, so check and double-check your email templates for proper grammar, spelling, and mechanics.

5. DO offer goodwill when warranted

In certain cases, it makes sense to offer the customer a coupon, voucher, gift card, or company swag to smooth over an issue or encourage them to make another purchase. The email response templates you provide for agents should be easily customizable to add goodwill based on pre-set business rules.

For example, certain reason codes or product codes within the case management CRM could trigger a next best action suggestion for the agent to add a coupon to the email reply. The same business rules can also provide guidance to your agents about the value of the compensation they can offer, as well as limits on how much goodwill any given customer can receive.

Any process with well-defined business rules can make a great candidate for automation. For instance, an email virtual assistant can follow the same goodwill rules as your agents when replying to customer emails.

6. DO open the door for more communication

At the end of your template, leave the door open for the customer to communicate. Let them know what actions they can take to respond with additional questions or comments; for example:

  • Reply to this email
  • Live chat with us
  • Find more information on our website
  • Connect with us on social media

Today’s customers want openness and transparency from companies, and they expect to be able to communicate on their terms. That’s why making it easy to continue the conversation is so important.

7. DO use AI-driven email automation

An AI-powered email virtual assistant like Astute’s EVA drastically simplifies managing inbound emails. Here’s what EVA does:

  • Reads the incoming customer email
  • Understands the intent of the text
  • Classifies the reason for the contact and the product in question
  • Creates a case in the CRM system
  • References how human agents have replied to similar cases in the past
  • Generates a reply
  • Sends the customer an answer (or waits for an agent to QA before sending)

EVA’s responses are based on machine learning from what your best agents do and how they’ve previously responded to similar inquiries, ensuring accuracy while preserving a human feel.

This is yet another reason to make sure your customer service response templates follow best practices, as they will affect not only how your human agents respond but also how automated systems reply to customers.

8. DO follow up after the interaction is complete

Measure the success of your team’s customer email responses by sending a simple post-interaction survey. You can use this to evaluate whether your team’s tone, resolution accuracy, goodwill offerings, and other elements of the interaction are meeting the customer’s need.

By comparing post-interaction survey data with case reason and product codes, you can more easily identify whether certain types of resolutions (and their accompanying email templates) are less effective than others, and improve them going forward.

Email is clearly here to stay. Give your customers the fast, friendly resolutions they’re looking for in this important channel with customer engagement solutions from Astute, including:

Schedule a personalized demo of Astute’s technology today.