Clarity is an essential support skill, and the key to effective customer communication. Use these tips to write clear emails that your customers understand.
We all want loyal customers, right?
(If your answer is “no,” you’ve wandered into the wrong corner of the internet.)
A lot of companies struggle to solve the problem of creating customer loyalty, inventing fancy rewards programs, inviting customers to ultra-exclusive insider’s clubs and giving out coupons like Halloween candy.
But the real answer is actually a lot simpler than that.
The true key to customer loyalty, as the Harvard Business School found, is reducing customer effort.
Make your customers’ lives easier, and they’ll reward you with their continued business.
A huge part of reducing customer effort – one that comes into play every single time you hit “send” on a support email – is clarity in communication.
Learning to write more clearly is a powerful way to ensure that your customers spend less time and effort trying to understand your emails.
Today, I’m sharing 11 ways that you can make an immediate impact on the clarity in your writing.
1) Eliminate Jargon and “Five Dollar Words”
A lot of people think that big words make them sound smarter.
But, as one Princeton University study by Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer found, exactly the opposite is true.
Dr. Oppenheimer showed study participants a variety of writing samples, and asked them to rate the intelligence of the writer.
What did he learn?
Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words or complicated fonts, will lower readers’ evaluations of the text and its author.
Not only do big words make you look dumb, but they make your writing harder to understand.
Eradicate Get rid of them.
2) Use Numbers (And Not Bullets) to Break Up Lists
Never put lists in a paragraph. As a general rule, if your list has more than two items on it, break it up.
Bullet points have their place, but when it comes to customer emails, the best way to break up a list is numbers, not bullets.
Because it makes your customer’s life easier. If they want to follow up with a question about any specific item on your list, they can simply reference “#3”, rather than having to restate the entire point.
A great example is this real email I got from the simplehuman support team when I was having issues with a product I bought:
All I had to do was respond with “Option 2, please.” No confusion, and very little effort on my part.
3) Use Bolding to Add Emphasis
If there’s one critical point that you absolutely must get across in your email, bold it.
This is especially useful if your email includes an important date or time that your customer needs to act by.
4) Don’t Bury the Lede
In journalism, the “lede” is the very first part of a news story. With the understanding that most readers won’t make it past the first paragraph, the lede is written to convey the main point of the story, and to convince the reader to continue.
Burying the lede in the middle of your email is dangerous, as you’ll increase the chances that your customer won’t see it.
5) Eliminate Extra Words
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
6) Use the Customer’s Name
Clarity doesn’t just come from making your point well; it also comes from making sure that you have your customer’s full attention to your email.
Using your customer’s name will help jolt their brain to attention.
I mean that literally: studies have found that hearing one’s own name stimulates activity in specific parts of our brains.
That’s why starting an email with the customer’s name is better than jumping right in to your message, or worse, using the cringe-worthy “Dear Valued Customer” (ugh).
7) Don’t Assume; Ask for Clarification
I always find it so frustrating when I email a company for support (airlines and credit card companies are especially bad at this), and get a response that shows that they didn’t understand my question.
If you don’t completely understand the question, you can’t give a clear answer. So don’t try.
It’s ok to ask a customer to clarify a point; they’ll appreciate the effort that you’re putting in to help them thoroughly a lot more than they’ll appreciate an answer to the wrong question.
8) Use the Power of Images
Often, especially when you’re trying to walk your customer through a process, images and screenshots can get your point across more easily than words.
9) Be Liberal With Line Breaks
Line breaks are a great way to make your writing more clear.
Split up long paragraphs into shorter ones, and your message will be easier to digest.
You’ll also create white space, a valuable asset that reduces eye strain and can increase reading comprehension by 20%.
This might seem silly, but the number of under-proofed support emails that I’ve seen is staggering.
I’m not talking about typos, which, in the age of mobile email are far more forgiven than they used to be.
I’m talking about emails that use the wrong name, repeat the same paragraph twice, contain unfinished sentences, and more.
If an email is important, give it a quick scan before you click “send.” It’s a great habit, and not just for customer support.
11) Try the ELI5 Technique
Even if they seem like second nature to you, the complex or technical concepts behind your product can be really confusing to customers.
When you need to explain a complex idea or instruction, don’t write it as if you were sharing it with a coworker.
Instead, use the ELI5 Technique.
On the Explain It Like I’m Five subreddit, experts distill complex topics and explain them as if the reader were five years old.
As an example, see how one user explains the difference between email, Google, AOL, a website, and web browsers:
If someone didn’t understand what those things were, this would be a perfect, clear rundown that would instantly and easily make sense.
Spend some time reading the ELI5 subreddit, and practicing writing your own instructions in the same format to make life easier for your customers.
Effective Writing Leads to Effective Support
Have you noticed the difference that clear communication makes in your own support experiences?
Let me know in the comments.