If you write texts to customers, you know it’s much harder than it looks. Like doing a perfect push-up, flipping a fried egg without breaking the yolk, or putting a contact lens in for the first time, providing great customer service via text message requires a set of specific skills.
Sure, these days, “everybody texts,” but not every company writes great texts to customers. If your company is going to use this most popular and familiar channel to answer customers’ questions and solve their problems, your agents will need to keep these four text-specific writing skills in mind.
1. Keep it to 160 characters … or less.
Keeping it short is a must-have writing skill. If we could write 140-character tweets for the first decade of Twitter’s life, we can write 160-character texts to customers now! When your message goes over 160 characters, it’ll be split into a series of texts, which could be confusing or cause the customer to think you’re overdoing it.
Here’s an example of an overly long text from a local theater that’s letting ticket-holders know about a power outage:
Instead of this over-the-limit text, take the time to craft a short, clear 160-character version:
2. Show you understand the customer may not answer in real time.
Texting with customers is different than live chatting with them. When you’re live chatting with a customer, usually within a live-chat app of some type, you and the customer are in the chat together, in real time. In live chat, we often check in with the customer about whether they are still engaged, and they do the same with us. There’s a lot of “Are you there?” writing in live chat, and that’s appropriate because both parties assume live chat is, well, live.
Texting with customers is a bit different. Because text is everyone’s most-used channel, it’s safe to assume texting is happening while everything else is happening: life, work, even sleep! So, it’s definitely practical for customer service agents to assume that their customers may not be available to text back and forth in real time.
Don’t write texts that “blame” the customer for not being available:
Do write texts that let the customer know you’ll be ready to reply even if it takes the customer a while to get back to you:
3. Use emojis to sustain the feelings, not carry the facts, of your response.
Yes, we can and should use emojis in our texts to customers. And yes, using emojis is, in fact, a writing skill. However, emojis should never carry the message or provide the answer, but simply decorate or embellish it.
Here’s an example of the wrong way to use emojis. A very worried customer texted her mobile service provider:
And here’s the response she received:
That text response looks strange and is difficult to read. The customer, who is already distressed about the loss of her phone, may not be able to decipher it. The emojis get in the way.
Here’s another example demonstrating the right way to use emojis. A customer who’d recently moved to Florida sent a couple of distressed texts to “ABC Airlines” when the flight carrying her golden retriever to join her in their new home was three hours late. When the plane finally landed, and the customer and her dog were reunited, she sent the airline this thank-you text:
And here’s the airline’s response:
Of course, it’s pretty easy to respond to happy texts from happy customers. But ABC Airlines has still demonstrated the best way to use emojis. The blushing emoji adds to the “aw shucks” feeling of the response, and the palm tree makes sense when a person has moved to Florida. Most importantly, the key point of the message is the same with or without the emojis.
4. Respond to the customer’s tone as well as the content of their text.
It’s not enough to give the right answer or a quick answer to a customer’s text. You should craft your words and use punctuation to respond to the tone of the customer’s text, too.
Of course, no one’s suggesting that you match a rude customer’s tone with rudeness of your own. But it’s practical to note how much emotion the customer is using in their text, so you can consider responding in kind (but keeping it positive).
Here’s an example of a text exchange where the customer service agent ignores the customer’s tone. That doesn’t work.
The customer texts:
The agent texts back with an accurate but cold, disconnected response:
Maria’s response is tone deaf. She should have noted Kristin’s writing style and mirrored it, especially because Kristin is not complaining or responding negatively. Maria should have noted that Kristin starts her text with the word “Hi,” uses the courtesy word “Thanks” and wraps up with an enthusiastic exclamation point.
Here’s a much more tone-aware response:
Texting is so commonplace and familiar that it would be understandable to think that it’s easy. But like any form of important communication, texting well requires specific writing skills and an understanding of how customers will receive your messages and tone. Poorly written texts can offend or frustrate, while well-written messages can help build stronger connections between your brand and its customers. Please remember that you don’t have to be serious in every text you write, but you better take texting seriously!
About Leslie O’Flahavan
Leslie helps customer care organizations write better text, email, live chat, and social media messages to customers. Since 1996, she’s been the owner of E-WRITE, a writing training consulting company, where she’s helped thousands of people—even the most stubborn or word-phobic—write well for online readers.