For some reason, writing a business email can turn even the most likeable person into an office drone.
They become all, “Dear Sir/Madam”, “Thank you for your feedback”, and “Yours sincerely”, which gives me a mental image of them typing with their pinky finger extended delicately as they nibble on an olive stuffed with caviar. Even small businesses do it.
And it’s not a problem with the medium. I see this off-putting language used by businesses on social media all the time.
I recently spotted a Facebook post from someone calling on people to help out at an upcoming event.
Information about the event was scarce, so as the post suggested, I sent a private Facebook message to the organiser with something like, “Hey Tina, I saw the post about your event, sounds interesting! Would love to hear more about it please. Thanks!”
A few hours later I got her response:
“Hello. Thank you for your enquiry. Please forward me your email address and we will get back to you.”
This didn’t exactly make me excited to join her event. Was I signing up to a group of cool people, or the British High Tea Society?
I get that the response was probably cut and pasted to save time. But how long would it have taken to type my name and make the template message more friendly?
“Hi Briar, Good to hear you’re interested! Let me know your email address and I’ll send you the details. Thanks!”
There are a million events and causes to get behind, and countless other ways for any of us to spend our time. If you sound formal and unwelcoming in your business emails, you’re going to lose out.
Of course, one reason her reply sounded so curt was the context. Being on Facebook, it’s even more okay than usual to relax in your written communication, maybe even go crazy and use ‘thanks’ instead of ‘thank you’.
But even when you’re sending an email from your business address, you can still be human without being unprofessional.
Your customers don’t want to deal with a robot. Here’s how to stop sounding like one.
‘Thank you for your email’
If you’re trying to connect with your audience, the most important thing is that your email doesn’t sound impersonal. You know what’s impersonal? Email clichés – those phrases people use so often in electronic conversation that they lose their meaning.
“Thank you for your email”, along with variations like “Thank you for your feedback”, is a stock-standard email starter that we all know usually means one of two things:
1) “I didn’t like your email at all, and I’m trying to respond politely,” or
2) “I don’t know how else to start this email”
Either way, there’s usually nothing warm about it.
It’s okay to use this line if you’re genuinely thankful because the email was really nice or useful – as in, “Thanks for your email, that was a great tip”, or, “Thanks for your email, I’m glad you loved the webinar”.
But if it’s an everyday business email or the person sent you a complaint or criticism, using this line will usually just seem impersonal, like you’re writing the email from a template. (If you actually are using a template, get a better template and aways read through the email before you send it.)
The key is to remove anything you’ve read countless times in other emails.
But what to replace it with? Think about what you would say if the customer spoke to you in person (and you were in a polite, non-defensive kind of mood).
Imagine someone walked up and told you they’d read your latest ebook and it wasn’t helpful at all. If you said “Thank you for your feedback” to their face, you’d sound a little sarcastic, right? Instead you might start off with something like, “Sorry you didn’t find it helpful”.
Cut the jargon
Exhibit B: Below is the email I received from a supermarket after I asked them to please stop packing my online shopping in a zillion plastic bags (having already tried asking during the ordering process and in person):
“Thank you for your feedback regarding online shopping we have noted your feedback for management reference. We appreciate the time you have taken write to us. If we can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.”
Putting aside the typos and the fact that this was a bad time to be thanking me (they clearly weren’t actually thankful), business-speak like “management reference” is off-putting and dilutes the message.
Instead, use everyday language in your business emails – not full-on slang, but the way you’d talk to a colleague. For instance, in the email above, “We have noted your feedback for management reference” could be, “We’ve passed your feedback on to our management team’.
This is still a fairly common way to end an email. But because this phrase is so formal that you’d never normally hear someone say “many thanks” in person, it’s best to avoid it.
Just ‘thanks’ will do fine, or ‘thank you’ if you want to be extra polite (or really want to emphasise your gratitude because the person did something awesome).
Another way to personalise your business emails is to be specific. Detail shows what you’re saying is genuine, not generic.
In Exhibit B above, my feedback wasn’t really “regarding online shopping”, it was about all those plastic bags. Their generalisation meant I couldn’t tell whether they’d even read my email.
The same applies in more positive email exchanges. There’s a big difference between “Thanks for your help” and “Thanks for your ideas about the website design. It hadn’t crossed my mind that the text would be too small on mobile phones”. One sounds like a throw-away comment typed without thinking; the other is thoughtful and genuine.