Solve complicated scenarios with great communication.
Note: We first published this post in 2014, and I’m updating it to include new information and a few more scenarios that we’ve come across during the past few years.
There are a few main difficult scenarios you’ll most likely face as a support representative.
In customer service, every interaction matters, and there is no 100% right or wrong way to deal with any situation.
Even though the ability to think on a case-to-case basis is one of the foundations for great customer service, it’s good to have a few customer service email templates ready for some “classic” difficult scenarios for when they do happen.
And they will.
Today, we’re going to share five customer service email templates from our own archives to use for the most challenging of situations.
Using Customer Service Email Templates
The great thing about customer service templates is that instead of just explaining a strategy conceptually, a template helps you see the concept in action.
All of the examples we’ll show you today are actual, real email scripts that we’ve used in our customer service communication.
However, the crappy thing about templates is that if you copy and paste the scripts you find here or anywhere else into your own emails, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to build authentic, human relationships with your customers.
Or even worse, you risk some embarrassing fails:
(Yes, this is real.)
How (SPECIFIC SYNONYM OF “REALLY PISSED OFF”) would you, as a customer who had a bad experience, feel if you received this?
Templates make zero difference if you don’t genuinely care about making your customers happy and successful. Developing empathy is absolutely the most crucial thing to make your customer support amazing, and it needs to come through in every single email you write.
So, approach these templates carefully. Read them, save them, discuss them and revisit them. Internalize them to understand the main points—but change them to make them your own.
Your customers will appreciate it, and the strategies will work much, much better.
Let’s get started.
Template #1: A Customer Asking for a Discount
Derek Halpern says that discounting can destroy your business.
There are businesses out there that discounts work perfectly well for, but we’re not one of them. Our goal is to make the perceived value of Groove higher, not lower, and discounting is a great way to accomplish the latter.
When a customer asks for a discount, we’ll respond with something like this:
Why this works: It’s empathetic (we know how they feel), personal (we include information about them and their account) and still delivers value (the consultation we’re offering increases the perceived value of Groove through great customer support).
Saying no can be hard, but sometimes it’s necessary to make sure all your customers are on a level playing field and you’re not damaging your business.
Template #2: A Feature Request You’re Not Going to Build
Most software companies get dozens of feature requests every week—and that’s not a bad thing. It means that your users care enough to offer their own ideas and feedback to help you make your product even better for use cases like theirs.
However, not only would it be impossible to build it all, it wouldn’t be smart, either—many requests, though perfectly reasonable, don’t align with what we already know most customers would find valuable.
But flat-out rejection really sucks—it’s a slippery slope to making your users feel like their ideas aren’t worthy. All you need to do is phrase your rejection the wrong way.
We’ve tested 10+ different approaches for this situation in the past few years, and one of them continues to stand out above the rest:
Why this works: It’s personal (we took the time to really think about the idea, and our response makes that clear), it’s positive, and it still delivers value to the customer.
If you’re lucky, your customer will accept that their request will not be fulfilled, but you’ll walk them through an alternative that’ll work for them instead. Win-win.
What if a customer says they’ll flat-out leave if you don’t build what they want you to?
Generally, if a feature is make-or-break, but we can’t justify building it (due to resource constraints or it being outside the scope of our vision/focus), our main goal is still to make the customer happy, even if that means they might leave. For now.
In fact, if the feature is 100% critical for them and we can’t offer a viable alternative, we’ll tell them which of our competitors with that feature we think might serve their needs best.
We get it—the smallest thought of admitting that your competitor has something better can be frightening. However, here’s what happens as a result:
- Even though our product might not fit their needs, the customer will know that we went out of our way to guide them towards what’s genuinely best for them. That sort of goodwill goes a long way.
- If you do end up building that feature in the future, because of the way you handled the issue, you have a strong case to make for that customer to return.
Both of those things are a better alternative than having a customer who leaves feeling 100% unhappy with our product and likely to disappear for good.
Template #3: A Customer That Needs Babysitting Through a Simple Task
Saying “yes” all the time means that your customers will wind up relying on you for every little thing. This will cost you time and money.
You might think that saying no will offend your customer and potentially destroy the relationship you’ve built. That’s not necessarily the case. In fact, saying “no” can be the best choice for you and your customer—especially when you know exactly how to do it.
There are a number of ways you can go from saying “yes, and” to “no, but.”
First things first, you need to assess the real urgency of the situation at hand—make sure that the issue really isn’t something that requires your immediate and undivided attention:
And then, when you know for sure that it’s a simple issue they’re able to fix on their own, provide them with the resources to do so:
If you have managed to put together a great knowledge base or other self-help solution, your customers will be willing (and eager) to engage. People actually like using self-serve support, especially if the resources are tailored to them.
If their problems aren’t answered in your knowledge base, use it as an opportunity to improve your content there.
Receiving a request to do the customer’s work is an opportunity to teach them how to use your services, and gives you the chance to define expectations.
Why this works: It’s asking the customer to explain the issue to you in more detail, which will automatically make them think rationally and puts them in the mindset of fixing the issue; it’s helping the customer learn about your product and feel accomplished, and it’s still reassuring them that you’re there when they need you.
Template #4: An Angry Customer
Everyone in customer support will at some point have to deal with an angry customer.
Sometimes, the customer is angry because they feel slighted by something you or your company did. Sometimes, they’re venting because they’ve had a tough day and you’re an easy target. No matter what the underlying reason is, how you deal with it will make or break the situation.
And with more than 135 million people passing through the company’s parks and resorts each year, Disney has perfected the art of customer service recovery to create happy and loyal customers.
Their approach to service recovery is a five-step process, easily remembered with the acronym H.E.A.R.D, which stands for:
First things first—don’t let your customer’s anger influence your own behavior. That is—don’t get angry back.
The next step is to acknowledge your customer’s feelings. Be empathetic, apologize, and make it clear that you understand that they’re upset.
Third, refocus the conversation on what’s most important: the actual problem at hand—work to find a resolution to the issue.
Here’s a real example of how you can turn an angry customer into a happy one:
Why this works: It follows the H.E.A.R.D system by empathizing, apologizing, eventually resolving, and helps the customer feel better by knowing that their problem is being taken very seriously.
Template #5: Your Product or Service Is Broken
Anyone in SaaS who’s been through a serious server outage knows the sinking feeling of realizing that all of the support emails in your inbox are coming in from upset customers who are wondering why the product they pay for isn’t working.
This has happened to us, too. One of the most devastating moments in our product history was when one of our servers had a meltdown a few years back—a crapstorm of many dimensions.
Fortunately, the support emails we sent saved us more than a handful of customers.
Here’s the email we used:
Why this works: It was informative (it included all of the details we knew at that time, with no obfuscation), empathetic (we were clear that we knew how terrible this was for our customers), apologetic and personal (including Alex’s email address and the promise of a follow-up).
Note: just as important as saying the right thing in this situation is making sure you actually do keep updating your customers regularly until a conclusion is reached. You hate being kept in the dark, and your customers do, too.
Using Customer Service Email Templates to Improve Your Support
The customer service email templates we shared today are for very specific situations, but the concepts in them (empathy, sharing information, promises that you’ll keep, etc) can be applied to just about every support situation you run into.
Above all: dig deep to understand and appreciate how the customer feels, and respond the way you’d want to be responded to.
Do you have any particular scripts or approaches you love to use? Or any tough situations you’d like help dealing with?
Let us know in the comments!