I work in technical support, which has given me many opportunities to develop the skill of phrasing things carefully. If you’re in an IT department or technology company, you doubtlessly have to deal with emails from irate people who’ve just spent hours struggling with a piece of unhelpful software. These users often have a preconception of technical support as being “unhelpful”, “slow” or “rude” and so it really helps to have some tactful phrases in your writing toolkit.
When it’s a case of “user error”
Don’t say “It’s your fault” or “You’ve done it wrong.” This is likely to annoy or upset the user, and escalate a potentially tricky situation. Instead, try opening your email with something that doesn’t sound like you’re blaming them:
- “Perhaps that section of the manual wasn’t very clear.”
- “I’m sorry you’re having problems with that.”
Then use the main body of your email to give clear and concise help. It may be tempting to dash off as quick a message as possible, but you won’t save any time if the user then emails back because they’re still stuck.
- “Lots of people struggle with this, so let me take you through it step-by-step…”
- “This is how it’s supposed to work”
Close your email by inviting them to let you know if they’re still having trouble at all:
- “Just let me know if you’ve got any more questions.”
- “Email us if you’re still having problems once you’ve tried the above.”
Putting it all together, here’s an example of how not to do it:
“There’s an ‘I forgot my password’ button for a REASON, idiot.”
And here’s how to make someone’s day a little brighter:
“Sorry to hear you’re having trouble logging in. I’ve checked on our end, and we’re not experiencing any system downtime. Just click on the ‘I forgot my password’ button and it’ll send your account details straight to your inbox. Let me know if you don’t receive that email, or if you have any more problems at all, and I’ll be glad to help.”
When the bug or problem is yours
If there’s a problem on your end, it’s a good idea to apologise. Don’t go over the top in prostrating yourself for every tiny thing, but do make it clear that you’ve acknowledged that there’s something wrong. Using phrases like “slight bug”, “temporary problem”, “minor issue” are much more likely to calm worries than “catastrophical error” or “huge mistake” (even if the latter are more accurate…)
Starting your email with a brief “Sorry” or an acknowledgement that there is something wrong, will help calm down the user instantly:
- “Sorry about that.”
- “Yes, I’ve managed to repeat the problem you reported.”
Let them know what’s being done to fix the situation (unless you can fix it on the spot before emailing them back). Don’t make any promises you can’t keep, but do give some idea of likely timeframes for a solution:
- “Our programmers are looking into it at the moment.”
- “We’re hoping to have it back up and running by the end of the day.”
Close your email by apologising for the inconvenience to them, especially if there’s going to be a long delay in getting the problem fixed. And reassure them that they’ll be informed as soon as it is sorted out – otherwise you’ll risk them sending hourly emails demanding to know if there’s any progress.
- “My apologies for the inconvenience in the meantime.”
- “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.”
- “We’ll email again as soon as it’s working.”
This sort of email is not likely to meet with a good response (especially if your boss sees it):
“Yeah, that’s our fault, huge screw-up. We’ll get it fixed soonish.”
This is much more likely to lead to a happy user who is confident that you’ve got the situation under control.
“Sorry about that. I can see there is a slight problem, and we’re investigating exactly what the issue is. We’ll get back to you as soon as it’s working again – it should be sorted out within a couple of days.”
Keep a list of the above phrases on hand for those moments when you need to tactfully unruffle feathers and unfray nerves: it’ll make your job a lot easier!