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Do Your E-mails Reflect the Quality of Your Customer Service?

Posted by Adam Halwitz on May 25, 2016

Thorough, helpful, readable writing can help your business earn customers’ loyalty and trust. In customer support e-mails, your team’s writing is more important than ever. People who have a service need are already spending effort and time trying to solve a problem. Whether they want to learn more about a product’s specs, update their billing details, or complain, they have a goal in mind—and want to achieve it now. They certainly don’t want to strain to understand what you’re saying. customer service writing

Unclear, frustrating, or misleading messages lead to unhappy customers with unsolved problems. Equally important, poor writing makes customer service look substandard, even if it does end up helping fix an issue. It just seems shoddy, indicating the writer didn’t take much care. That doesn’t leave people feeling confident.

Everyone has seen bad customer service e-mails, but while it’s hard to avoid from others, your business does not have to be guilty of poor writing. There are simple ways to avoid it.


Customer service writing…

…fails when it’s generic; succeeds when it’s personalized.

E-mails come off as impersonal and stilted if the writer is clearly avoiding “I” and “my,” or always talks about “the company” rather than its staff. It’s much more reassuring to hear that a specific human being has applied brainpower to the situation. If you can, provide a personal method of reply: an e-mail address or phone number that lets the customer reach you in particular.


…fails when it’s too stiff or too casual; succeeds when it sticks politely to the facts.

Write matter-of-factly, adjusting your language to match the tone of the message you’re answering. If it’s friendly, a friendly response is appropriate. If it’s an angry complaint, a more formal tone might be better.

Don’t overdo it either way, though. “We sincerely appreciate your inquiry into this matter” sounds awkward and insincere—but so does “Wow, that’s crazy! Our bad!”


…fails when it dodges the core issue; succeeds when it addresses the question head-on. 

Customers aren’t looking just for a sympathetic reply: they want substance. If it’s not relevant or helpful, even the best-written response won’t help them. Not sure what they mean? Ask a clarifying question. And if you can’t resolve an issue quickly, say so, then share your plan to get answers. That’s frustrating to learn, but your reader will prefer it to a long e-mail that turns out to be useless.

Great customer service means resolving issues as painlessly as possible. High-quality, reader-centered writing is more and more critical as support moves to e-mail and chat. Being there for your customers every day can be a delicate part of a business’s operations. Ensure your teams have the communication skills they need!

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Tags: sales writing, customer-focused writing

A Secret Weapon to Boost Sales Fast

Posted by Karin Anell on March 02, 2016

Oh, no: another request from the C-suite to increase sales with a limited budget. You have a great team of sales people with good business acumen. You can’t spend more on a marketing campaign. What should you do? Here is an idea for a low-level investment that could really pay off: a workshop on reader-centered sales writing! Dollarphotoclub_102148219.jpg

Improving the writing skills of your sales force may not be the most obvious way to boost current revenue, but in our experience, it is one of the best things you can do for sales.


Why sales writing?

As a sales or marketing executive, your job is to stand out in a noisy market, convincing prospects and customers that your product is the best choice and you are easy to work with.

Poorly organized and sloppy writing will not convince potential customers of anything (except perhaps to avoid your company like the plague). Make no mistake: we build (or lose!) trust and relationships through our writing. When you spend time and effort on a sales proposal or letter, you come across as trustworthy and dedicated—someone people want to do business with.


Ready for the secrets?

So how do you win sales using the written word? It is all about following a few easy principles.


Secret one: Plan your writing

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet so many of us fail to do it! Planning your writing helps you think about your goals and those of your audience. Start by reviewing what you know of your readers’ needs. Understanding your clients’ business is key to winning sales.


Secret two: Use a clear and engaging subject line

Many sales letters’ headlines appear to be competing for the annual how-boring-can-a-title-possibly-be award. Others are trying for the prize of most generic or too-cheesy-for-words. You have seen them. And they have seen the bottom of your trash folder or recycling bin. 

Get creative with your subject lines! How do you best catch your readers’ attention? Capture the gist of your message in the headline. Don’t use generic headlines such as “Product update” or “New product launch.” Instead, opt for something like:

How XYZ Inc. increases the efficiency of your CRM system by 25%!

What you gain from the new Pluton model


Secret three: Focus on the customer or prospect

Offer your readers the one or two things they really need that you are best at delivering. Droning on about the benefits and features of your company and product will not show prospects that you can address their specific needs. Show your readers how you can help solve their problems using the “you attitude”—address them in a personable way and prove that you understand them.

Remember, you are trying to build a relationship with a customer, and people want to do business with people that they like. A warm, engaging writing style that puts the reader front and center is likely to get you there.


Secret four: Structure your writing

Can you imagine reading a newspaper without headlines and sub-headlines? It would be impossible, right? So do your readers a favor by including lots of compelling sub-headings that capture the essence of each paragraph. This gives them a sense of the overall message and guides them to the sections they are interested in. 

Last but not least: close your document with an action step. What do you want your readers to do? After all, you have a specific goal in mind.


Secret five: Proofread your writing

Want to lose your credibility fast? When asking for someone’s time, misspell the word “calendar” and leave some words out. Use a cryptic headline and get your client’s name wrong.

Think about it! What message are you sending? You are saying: “This was not important enough for me to proofread.” Or, essentially: “You are not worth my time.” Is that the attitude you want to convey to clients? Spend a couple of minutes on checking your documents instead of risking business relationships!

The bottom line: writing can make or break your business dealings and your personal brand, too. Investing in sales writing training can have a tremendous impact on your customer relationships and future sales.


Action suggested

Visit our website at to find out more. Like that clear action step at the end? We practice what we preach!

Write Like a Leader Chapter 4

Tags: sales writing, customer-focused writing

How to Slash Reading Time in Tech Documents

Posted by Nancy Breuer on November 17, 2015

My smart Belgian Shepherd mix, Robbie, has chased off a large coyote that was threatening the neighbor’s little terrier—but he can’t tell you anything about how he did it, because he doesn’t have the words.

Sometimes we feel as though our tech teams have a comparable problem: they’re doggedly good at what they do, but not so clear on explaining it. clear technical writing


Could these three vital insights help?

It may be that your tech team feels pressure to “sound smart” or “sound techy” in their communications, so they’ve convinced themselves that their business writing has to differ in tone from their conversational voices. You can help them overcome that misunderstanding with three vital insights:

  1. Readers want to read what you wrote only once, and understand it on one reading, whether they’re reading your technical writing or the New York Times.

  2. To grasp what you’re saying, readers who aren’t technical experts will need a comparison to something they already understand.

  3. Fear of sounding “too simple” is an empty fear. There is no such thing as being “too clear” in business writing.  


First, readers want to understand your document on one reading.

The truth is even harsher: they will only give it one reading. They are already drowning in e-mail overload, so they are not going to study your tech team’s missive. Try this exercise with your tech team: ask one member in a meeting to explain what she or he is working on, using complete sentences. Then ask the next team member to explain what the first person just said. Keep going around the table with the same question about the original speaker’s work until someone gives you a simple, clear explanation—then pounce! Repeat what the last person said and identify that clear, simple explanation as the way to write it the first time.

The most amusing pushback to writing clearly that I’ve heard in a workshop was, “But they’ll think they’re paying me too much!” It would take a psychologist to unpack that blurted-out fear, but it simply takes a good manager to extinguish it. You need to write to express, not impress. Tell doubters that you’re paying the team to be clear, not arcane or confusing. This is business communications, not a competition for “most obscure.”


Second, think of a device or process readers already understand, and compare your work/design/process to it.

Explaining complex or abstract concepts is tough. Does your tech team’s software/device/idea remind you of playing Monopoly when you were a child? Ask them to explain it that way, referring to a widely known rule in the classic board game as a way of explaining their own work. Imagine how many paragraphs of explanation that could save you—and the readers!

People who can see and explain the similarities between their own highly technical work processes and common activities in daily life are prized communicators. Tell your team you will be rewarding this skill and handing back overly complex drafts for rewriting. Behavior will change.


Third, there is no such thing as being “too clear” in business writing.

Readers do not subtract points for clarity. They add points.

Tomorrow I have to attend a business event on South Benton Street, which the invitation describes as being “south of Benton Street.” Huh? Will I rely on what the writer wrote? No. I will get help from a mapping app. The app will be clearer.

In many years of working as a business writing coach, I have never had anyone tell me that a reader complained because the writer was being “too clear.”

Bonus: giving readers shorter reading times will translate into your tech team’s spending less time writing. Everyone’s productivity goes up.

Download Chapter 2 of Write Like a Leader!  

Tags: clear writing, customer-focused writing, technical writing

How to Write Persuasive E-mails as Part of a Winning Sales Strategy

Posted by Karin Anell on September 16, 2015

Picture the world’s best optometric lens company. They just invented the finest contact lenses in the world. Brimming with enthusiasm, they design a marketing e-mail listing the unique features and outstanding quality of these lenses. The response rate is dismal, however, and they scratch their heads in disbelief. Does the world not understand how truly revolutionary these lenses are?writing persuasive emails


Hint: it is not about you!

Why did the company fail to stand out from the competition for their customers’ attention? Probably because they made the number one mistake of sales and marketing outreach: putting too much emphasis on the product and not focusing on the customer. The key to a successful sales e-mail is to be reader, or customer-centered. Show them that you know them, and you will close the sale.

Listing the generic benefits of a product may seem logical (“I can’t wait to tell you how great it is!”), but think about it: all your clients really care about is what is in it for them! How will your product help solve their problems?


Use the “you” attitude to win sales

When you switch the focus to the client—what we call the “you” attitude—something magical happens. You start to write from your customer’s perspective. You find yourself asking some relevant questions:

  • What do I know about my customer’s current business status?

  • What are the most pressing issues/needs of this company?

  • How will my product impact this company and the issues it faces?

  • Can I demonstrate ROI?

With answers to these questions securely in hand, you are ready to write a proposal from your customer’s point of view. Expressing the “you” attitude in your writing keeps the customers involved and makes them feel special (and who doesn’t like that?)


Instead of writing:

“Our product offers the following advantages:” (generic) 

Be specific and personal: 

“Your productivity will be enhanced by adding this feature.”

By showing the customer that you know exactly what is in for him/her you are more likely to create the enthusiasm you seek! 


Let The Six Steps to Reader-Centered Writing® help

By following an easy, six-step method for effective and reader-centered writing, focusing on your customer’s needs becomes second nature. When you show an in-depth knowledge of your customer’s needs and exactly how your product or service will help, you come across as dedicated and professional. There is no better way to persuade a buyer!  


In other words…

No matter how exceptional your product is, you need to demonstrate how it solves your client’s top one or two business needs in order to close the sale. Going back to our lens company, would the value proposition look different for someone who wears glasses as opposed to someone who dons contact lenses? Probably! When you demonstrate for a specific market segment what is in it for them, that’s persuasion. And that spells sales!

writing training providers

Tags: sales writing, customer-focused writing, email writing tips

Anatomy of a Great Apology E-mail from

Posted by Miriam Dumaine on September 27, 2012

Normally, e-mail is not the proper vehicle for an apology; we recommend a face-to-face meeting or phone call if possible. However, when you are the internet hosting service and have thousands of angry customers affected by an internet outage, e-mail is the only way to reach customers quickly. The CEO of, Scott Wagner, did an admirable job.

Why was his message so effective? Read the message and we’ll deconstruct it below: apology e-mail from CEO Scott Wagner

Here are the main ingredients of Wagner’s effective apology e-mail:

  1. Clear bottom line strategically placed in the banner—you can’t miss it! Bottom Line On Top: The apology and “What’s in it for me?” are in the banner. If the customer reads no more, he or she will know there’s a credit waiting.

  2. Reader-centered focus. Wagner effectively uses the “you” attitude to connect directly and show he understands his customer’s pain: “We let you down and we know it.”

  3. Appropriate and brief content. The third paragraph explains why the outage happened. The explanation is factual and avoids blame or emotion.

  4. Clear action requests. How many times have you been upset about a service and had to ask for a credit? immediately offers this with "Accept your enclosed credit" and "Redeem your credits now." You just need to click.

  5. Passive voice score is low. Wagner takes responsibility with the first person voice, “I” and “we.” There are a few instances of passive voice to hide the "actor" of the action. Short, active sentences give the message a more personal feeling, as if Wagner were writing only to one person instead of the entire customer base.

  6. Use of visual design. Wagner uses bold for the second most important statement: “At no time was any sensitive customer information, including credit card data, passwords or names and addresses, compromised.” We normally suggest writers use more formatting such as headlines and bullets, but this apology e-mail works well as it is.

  7. Appropriate word choice and tone. Wagner uses simple words to create an authentic and heartfelt voice. It really sounds like he, personally, is sorry. He also knew it was important to send the message under his personal signature—not from the customer service department. He acknowledges that the apology is just the first step for in regaining the trust of its customers.

Great job, Scott Wagner!

Tags: customer-focused writing, business writing tips, email writing tips

Death by Subject Line: A Cautionary Business Writing Tale

Posted by Andrea MacLeod on January 16, 2012

It’s January and my favorite store’s e-marketing campaign is out of control. I succumbed to several of their “special offers” during the holidays, and now they are targeting my inbox relentlessly. In an attempt to clear the backlog of last season’s merchandise, they are jeopardizing future full-price sales.

I was too busy to react to my first email titled “Last Chance!!! 90% Off!!! Free Shipping!!!” I regretted losing the opportunity, but maybe it was for the best.

The same electronic promotion arrived for the next eight days. The barrage of last chances made my feeling of regret decrease—the uniqueness and value of the deal became more questionable. Each day they had lied to me about the last chance. Rather than convince me to buy, I was annoyed at the lack of space in my inbox.

This “spam” made me think of my own subject lines. In my attempt to get readers’ attention in the avalanche of e-communication, am I shouting or overselling? Or do I create value for my reader?

Subject lines are your first impression. For many readers, the subject line will determine whether or not they read the e-mail.


Tips for crafting your subject line: remember to

  • keep it brief and relevant

  • personalize as much as possible—no one likes to read a template

  • update it when responding to an e-mail

  • include any actions required with real deadlines.

That “LAST CHANCE” deal will be ignored, but by keeping your subject line reader-centered, your e-mail won’t be.

Tags: clear writing, sales writing, customer-focused writing, business writing tips, email writing tips

How to Write a Blockbuster PowerPoint Presentation

Posted by Miriam Dumaine on July 21, 2011

By guest blogger Bob Cipriano, facilitator and movie critic


PowerPoint presentations can look a little like movies. Especially when you “vortex” your transitions from slide to slide and “boomerang” your bullet points. But your presentation isn’t a movie, Mr. Spielberg. Nobody showed up to view your animated pageantry or your fiery conclusion.


Presentations serve a purpose

Audiences gather for PowerPoint presentations to take something back with them—to be able to do something new or better, make a decision, or get energized. They get that from the words on screen and the words you speak. If PowerPoint presentations get raves, it’s because they’re about your point, your bottom line, and your inspiring words—not your provocative slide transitions.

But if you want to “go Hollywood” with your presentation, fine. Just do it right. Every movie begins with a script. 


Writing your script

Step one:  focus on your audience
Ask yourself what you want your audience to do or take away from your presentation. Jot it down. Then ask yourself what those people need from you to be able to act on your words. (Acting requires some motivation. If you’re going to attract, hold, and motivate an audience, your script better relate directly to that audience.) Keep it simple: bullet points speak louder than paragraphs when you’re storyboarding your production.

Step two: sequence your information
Lay out your production in flashback. PowerPoint audiences need to know the ending up front. If not, they get restless.

Step three: transfer to PowerPoint
When you begin to transfer your notes to actual slides, remember that nobody comes to a presentation to read paragraphs. The bullet points you wrote while storyboarding might serve you well on screen. You can and should elaborate as the presenter. Otherwise, you’re just a glorified projectionist.

Step four: design your slides
After the writing comes the production. Build that production around your script, but be subtle. What if your majestic production highlights really do have people buzzing after the production? Is that good? If bulleted lists exploding like “Transformers, the PowerPoint Incident” linger in an audience’s collective consciousness, how will they ever recollect what the bullets actually said? 


PowerPoint should enhance your message, not distract from it

Your message is the medium. PowerPoint is the tool. Leave your audience with a written offer they can’t refuse—not a slideshow version of “Apocalypse Now.” Phony action flops. Inspired action gets an extended run.


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Tags: clear writing, customer-focused writing, writing presentation documents

Is Your Daily Business Writing TOO Businesslike?

Posted by Deborah Dumaine on April 21, 2011

In e-mail, in the name of being professional, do you tend to shy away from asking your customers about a recent vacation or a sick child?

Pretend you’re talking to them on the phone: would you jump right into your business conversation or instead ask how they are…how their weekend was?  The answer is the latter.

If you’re writing the first e-mail of the day to your customer, start with a short personal reference, and close with one as well.  Successive e-mail messages to the same customer on the same day can be brief and to the point. This is similar to working in an office, when you say “good morning” to everyone and then get on with your business day.

Depending on how well you know the customer, don’t be afraid to share a bit of personal information about yourself; for example: your customer loves hiking and you learned about new walking sticks, or you found a great organic restaurant in an area you both know.

Think of your daily business writing as a way to get to know your customer and vice versa. It builds and strengthens relationships, which is your goal. With waning opportunities to meet in person, this may be your best chance to show you are a friendly, appealing, and trusted resource.

Tags: clear writing, customer-focused writing, writing for leaders, business writing courses, email writing tips

Managers Report Nearly 80% of Decision-Making Takes Place in Writing

Posted by Deborah Dumaine on April 12, 2011

What are the implications for those in leadership roles?

Companies spend millions of dollars grooming current and future leaders for success. They offer all sorts of training and team building in costly off-sites. Then what happens? The leaders go back to their desks where they suddenly must translate all the great stuff they learned about leadership into writing. And they can’t.


What do readers want from a leader who writes to them?

At the most basic level, readers want to know two things:

1. What is this message about?

2. What am I supposed to do?

After the basics, readers want a message wrapped in clear language and a positive, encouraging tone.


Are you in a leadership role? Use these guidelines from our Writing for Leaders™ course

Using a simple focusing exercise at the beginning of any communication, even a brief e-mail, can set you apart as a leader who can communicate. Go back and review your last several important e-mail messages to your team, and ask yourself the questions below. Did you

  • think “action”: clarify what you want the reader to do and include a deadline?

  • put your key point first (“bottom line on top”) most of the time?

  • make your e-mail subject line specific and informative using verbs, not just nouns? Include deadlines?

  • keep language simple: control word and sentence length for greater readability?

  • use headlines to make your document’s organization stand out and help the reader get your message?


How did you do?

It will take a while to internalize these guidelines, but you will see the difference immediately when you send out a message that answers “yes” to all of the above questions!

Tags: clear writing, customer-focused writing, writing for leaders, business writing courses, reader-centered writing, email writing tips

Grammar Error in NYTimes Ad—Quick Business Writing Lesson

Posted by Deborah Dumaine on April 05, 2011

Did you see’s full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times (p. 7 WK)? As a long-time business writing coach, I cringe when I see this error.

The only text on the page was this tag line:

If your child is using drugs, talk to them before it goes too far.

The poor grammar takes away from the message—many readers will focus on the grammar goof instead of the drug issue. “Your child” is singular; “them” is plural. We’ve all come across this pesky antecedent problem, but how do you avoid it?  Using “him or her” is way too cumbersome, especially for a punchy one-liner like this. So avoid the pronoun problem altogether by eliminating it. Try

  • If your child is using drugs, have a talk before it goes too far.
  • If your child is using drugs, sit down and talk before it goes too far.
  • If your child is using drugs, discuss it now—before it goes too far.

Your prose will sound more elegant and polished, and you will succeed in delivering a clear message.

Tags: clear writing, customer-focused writing, business writing tips