Customer Experience News & Trends

‘You’re fired’ – and 9 other things you should never say in email

Whether you’re sending email to customers or colleagues, some things should never be said in those messages. Just ask Microsoft.

Some news — such as delayed product deliveries or layoffs — are better suited for personal calls. Other information — such as confidential or competitive data — is better left unsaid.

Microsoft is sporting a black eye after a recent, rambling email to staff at Nokia surfaced. While the content was an unfortunate circumstance of business, the delivery was about as tacky as glue. Two-thirds of the way into the 1,100 word memo, Senior Manager Stephen Elop finally mentions that about 12,500 jobs will be cut and severance benefits will be given as Microsoft takes over.

Microsoft’s blunder only scratches the surface of things that shouldn’t show up in email to employees, colleagues and customers. Here are 12 other things you should never say in email to, first and foremost, customers.

1. ‘No’

When you have to tell customers “no,” an email really isn’t the place to do it. You can save face by reaching out with a phone call to “discuss the matter.” That’s because a sympathetic ear and empathetic voice will make customers feel less frustrated by a rejection than they would by a cold email message.

Try explaining what you can do.

2. ‘I wish I could, but …’

An excuse will never come across as rational reasoning in an email. Whether you have to defend a policy or do something based on an industry standard, it’ll sound like a brush-off in an email.

Taking the time to explain the reason for the situation won’t sound like an excuse.

3. ‘ … or else’

It’s likely you’d never hand customers an ultimatum in a conversation, so don’t do it in writing.

4. ‘Jimmy was fired for stealing’

While your personnel issues affect customers — perhaps Jimmy was the technician scheduled to visit a number of customers today — they don’t need to know every little detail. For one, it’s in poor taste to speak ill of co-workers. Plus, telling others about personnel issues can open a can of legal worms.

Instead, write, “Carl will take care of you today.”

5. ‘Shirley was supposed to do that’

Don’t point fingers, especially in front of customers. It makes the writer sound like a tattletale — an unprofessional attribute. Customers don’t need to know who made a mistake. They just need to know that you identified the issue and are fixing it right now.

Better: “I’ve identified the issue and will have it resolved within minutes.”

6. ‘Yeah, right’

There’s sarcasm in those two words. And in professional email messages between employees and customers, there’s never room for sarcasm.

7. ‘XYZ ‘s service isn’t as good ours’

It’s in poor taste to speak badly of your competitors. It’s even worse to put it in writing. Even if a customer opens the door for competition-slamming by saying something bad about the other company, it’s always best to respond by focusing on a benefit of your product or company.

Even better, back it up with a short customer testimonial or mention of an industry award.

8. ‘Your credit score is only …’

Confidential information is best left shared in confidence. Talk about it over the phone or meet with customers face-to-face, whether it’s over personal or financial information.

Most industries regulate how confidential information is handled, but every person who deals with customers should know that anything that seems sensitive should be discussed personally.

9. ‘We’ve had a lot of problems with that product’

Unless your company has issued a product recall, it’s never a good idea to put in writing that a product is defective. Of course, you never want to hide something and put customers at risk, either. An official recall will make sure everything is in place.

But everyone’s definition of a “problem” is different, and what you consider an easily fixed glitch could be a lawsuit-waiting-to-happen in a customer’s eyes. If there is a problem, focus on the solution that’s being developed or has been applied to the issue.

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