Think your email skills are strong? Think again. As it turns out, we all overestimate our ability to communicate effectively over email.

In a study published in the Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, email writers thought readers would correctly identify the tone of their emails about 78% of the time. In reality? Only 56% of emails were interpreted accurately.

That means when you send an email off to a customer, there's a pretty good chance they won't fully grasp your intended meaning.

So how can you proofread your emails to avoid problematic misunderstandings with your customers? Start by cutting the fat. The following commonly used phrases are unnecessary, cliché, and easy to misinterpret. Eliminate them from your email repertoire to take your customer communication skills to the next level.

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1. "Sorry to bother you"

You might say this when you want to sound polite and considerate of your customer's busy schedule, but opening an email with an apology immediately undermines your credibility.

Instead of apologizing, get straight to the point: Why are you really contacting your customer, and what do you need from them? They'll appreciate your candor.

2. "Let's touch base"

This phrase has the not-so-honorable distinction of being one of the most overused corporate phrases ever, and unless you're literally talking about landing a helicopter, there's no need to use it in your client emails.

The biggest issue with asking a customer to "touch base" is that it's too vague. It's a filler phrase that doesn't explain what you want to discuss, leaving them completely in the dark.

Swap it out for something actionable that lets the customer know what their next steps should be, e.g., "Let's chat on Friday to make sure you're well-versed in the new website navigation."

3. "To be honest with you ... "

This one is tricky. It's commonly used to add emphasis to a candid remark or soften the blow of a blunt comment ("To be honest with you, you don't update your blog frequently enough"), but it could have the exact opposite effect, leaving your customer wondering, "Wait ... were you not being honest with me before?"

This seemingly innocuous phrase can make it seem like you've been hiding your true opinions this whole time, which obviously isn't great for building trust. The customer is relying on you for your expertise, so they expect you to share your true opinions openly and honestly, not just in select situations.

Cut this phrase from your emails and instead focus on telling it like it is -- without any crutch phrases.

4. "You should ... "

When your customer is insistent that pink Comic Sans font is the way to go, it can be challenging to refrain from typing back, "You should really just use X font instead."

Your customer doesn't need you to make all of their decisions for them. While starting a sentence with "you should" might sound fine in person, it could easily be misinterpreted as pushy or dismissive over email.

Use "I recommend ... " instead -- it will make sure your remarks are read as friendly advice. Offer alternatives, not ultimatums.

5. "No problem"

Customer service experts and business writers agree: "No problem" can be a big problem. This ostensibly polite phrase is usually a knee-jerk reaction to "Thank you," but it can subtly communicate to your customer that whenever you do something for them, it actually is a problem. "No problem" sounds like you're forgiving your customer for an offense, rather than accepting their thanks.

Are we overthinking this? Maybe. Should you still cut it from your emails? Definitely. It's easy enough to replace with a "You're welcome," or "Sure thing," rather than risk the miscommunication.

6. "I'll try ... "

In a world ruled by deadlines and calendar invites, "I'll try" sounds wishy-washy. If you respond to a customer's request with "I'll try to get that done by Wednesday," or "I'll try to solve that problem with the product team," you aren't exactly instilling confidence in your ability to advocate for them and their challenges.

When communicating over email without the aid of body language and tone, it's important to convey information in precise, detailed terms. Even if you're legitimately unsure about when, or if, you'll be able to get something done, provide the customer with a real deadline -- just push it out far enough to give yourself adequate time.

7. "The problem is ... "

Instead of framing a problem as well, a problem, try to explain it is a specific challenge with a known solution. The additional information will help assure the customer that you know exactly what's wrong, and more importantly, how to fix it.

"The problem is we're experiencing a system-wide outage," sounds alarming and vague, but "We're working on fixing an isolated outage that will have you back up-and-running by the end of the day" sounds like you have a handle on what's happening.

8. "I completely understand how you feel"

Before you write this in an email, stop and think: Have you ever been in this exact situation before? No? Then don't write this phrase. It will only frustrate an already-frustrated customer.

"I understand how you feel" might seem like a thoughtful, well-intentioned thing to write to a customer experiencing obstacles using your product or service, but it can come across as distanced and condescending in an email.

There's almost always a better, more specific way to level with a customer when things aren't going as planned. Try: "I can definitely see how this is frustrating for you, and I want to make sure we're addressing it ASAP." Action-oriented language will console a customer more than vague apologies.

9. "As I mentioned before ... "

Even though it might seem like you're always explaining the same things over and over again to your customers, it's important to avoid this morale-killing phrase. The average person receives 122 emails per day, so you'll have to forgive them if they occasionally skim through or miss some of your communications.

Instead of drawing attention to the fact that you're repeating yourself (as satisfying as that might seem) try to be considerate of the fact that -- like you -- your customer is busy, and sometimes details slip through the cracks. If a customer is consistently missing the point, it's probably time for a call. Not everything can be solved over email.

10. "Checking in"

Nothing brings a recipient more trepidation than seeing a "Checking in" subject line in their inbox. If you have something specific in mind you want to review with your customer, indicate that in the subject line so they're prepared to respond -- and not freaked out or confused.

To learn more, read our list of customer service email templates next.

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Originally published Oct 3, 2018 4:51:00 PM, updated October 30 2019


Customer Retention