We write and edit companies’ frequently-used replies to customers for a living. Most of these replies are used on mobile, across various chat apps and email. With the hundreds of replies we’ve personally written by now, we distilled some important tenets for writing effectively to engage customers:
##1. Keep it short Always distill points down to essential sentences only. Realistically, write three or four sentences first, then go back and whittle it down to that one sentence if possible. This embodies the spirit of essentialism, in the sense that you should weed words out that you can do without; a clearly-defined idea makes a clearly-written sentence.
##2. Have a main point Following the point above, it’s important to think through what the main objective of writing the message is. Have one main idea per sentence. Have a main big idea per paragraph. From the clarity of these parts, you can also write a clear headline.
##3. Quantify the idea Clickbait-y lines work largely because of the promise of 3/5/7 tips or facts that could improve the reader’s life or entertain them immensely. It’s similar in communication - with the end receiver in mind, write (for example) the 3 concrete benefits, 5x improvements or 7 step plan you will use to address the topic at hand. It’ll keep people on track with a reference, and keep you accountable to what you’ve proposed.
##4. Tailor to channel Each channel you use could demand different lengths of text, line breaks (or separate messages), formality, content, attachments, links, and so on.
Especially for chat: Shorter messages broken up into digestible bits would be better read. It’s also most likely to be more casual, with more contractions (I’ll vs I will) because you probably already know the person on the other end. Also, response rate will likely be higher and people will expect faster replies. Send more mobile-friendly links or promise to follow up later if you can’t handle specific requests or questions right away.
##5. An alliteration advantage Alliteration and rhymes have been researched and shown to increase persuasiveness of ideas and messages. You can use this to your advantage by occasionally writing rhyming lines at important parts of the message. Plus, people read messages in their own voice in their heads, so it’s extra persuasive.
##6. Personalise to improve replies Use your correspondent’s name wherever possible, especially when you are making an important point. People pay special attention to their names (Case in point: You always look for your own face in pictures first, or listen back to voice messages you send) and will focus them on that particular sentence. This is also effective for email subject lines: “John, we’re waiting for you at Company X” is better than “Come back to our site!!”
##7. Use a structure - thesis, support, conclusion One of the concepts learnt from writing class is you should write head, body and end to stories. Adapting this idea to writing replies: Put your main point in the first part of the sentence, add any support for the point in links or facts, then conclude with action items. This will not only make you look decisive, but also logical and well-planned - which will all improve your persuasiveness and trustworthiness.
##8. Don’t assume what the receiver knows To truly connect with someone, don’t assume that they already know what you’re referring to immediately (unless you’ve been talking for a long time or know them really well). Set up the context and tell the story. Same goes with acronyms and jargon - don’t, unless it’s well established with the receiver.
##9. Consistency is key Consistency with other messages in style, consistency in accordance to previous communication, and consistency across other people on the team is especially important. Beyond the business implications of profitability and brand voice, it’s important to a customer that they are given a consistently good experience across all the touch points they interact with you. Confusion doesn’t help you improve communication and any results you’d hoped for.
##10. Refer to past successful replies Having a repository of previously proven good replies can dramatically increase the effectiveness of replies, simply because you know it works. Keeping this repository close by whenever you need it would be useful for quick replies, plus you don’t have to rummage through old archives to find good replies again.
##11. Be authentic In addition to the points above, it’s important to keep your point of view fresh and your voice/opinion clearly established. People are talking to a person, and they want to know you are one!