Communicate with Customers without Sounding Like a Jerk

Have you ever received a message from a customer that immediately had you flying into a rage? If you haven't, the you are EXTREMELY lucky. What they ask is so rude or ridiculous that it can be hard to even compose a response. Or, in another scenario, you get a message and you just fill in the blanks with what the customer is asking. This gets the customer annoyed and drags out the process.

Not having a customer communications strategy can not only lead to a blow up and/or hurt feelings, it can also lead to loss of sales. Uh oh! And that's kind of the whole reason you are in business. Today, John and Elizabeth of Forgotten Cotton make their third appearance on the blog-- this time to share what they have learned along the way when dealing with customers. And they are veterans at this: they just hit 10,000 sales in their Etsy shop this month!

You have a (largely) online business and your main form of communication is writing via email or messaging. No big deal, right? A customer messages you and you message them back.  It seems simple enough, however, there are a few tips and tricks that can streamline the process to ensure you are always at your best.

Customers are individuals, and as such each customer has different customer service requirements. Most customers require little or no communication or customer service before or after the transaction – and this should be your ultimate goal. Customers should have all the information available to them, from your product listings to your policies, to make an informed decision about purchasing from your shop. 

Sometimes, however, customers require a little more service. Whether it is a customer with questions prior to a purchase or a customer with problems during shipping or after receiving the item – it makes no difference. You must present yourself and your business in a completely professional manner. Each customer or potential customer can become a loyal patron of your business for years to come and as such deserves your complete attention and highest degree professionalism.   

The first thing to remember when communicating with customers is that you are not you, you are your business. For new businesses this may be a tricky concept to navigate. You always want to present yourself as a professional. 

Forgotten Cotton preps their fall line

Forgotten Cotton preps their fall line

Customers are making a purchase from your business for an item or service. Always keep that in mind - your purpose is to sell your items. The communications you receive can be anything from a blog asking to review your items to helping a customer navigate a customization process.  Everyone is a potential customer. Each person who you communicate with could potentially tell their friends and family about you. You want to be sure you are putting your best foot forward in all communications.

If you have ever worked in an office you will be familiar with the proper letter writing format.  If you are not, no worries we are going to layout the simple rules below. You want to treat the format of each correspondence like a letter. Your customers may not follow this same format when asking you questions.  Often, online communications are treated like texting or messaging.  This does not mean that you should not follow the basic format of business communication. 

Your communication format is as follows:

Thanking your customer for their time
Answering the question
Encouraging your customer to respond
Business Name

It is that simple. By following the simple letter writing format you ensure your correspondences are professional, concise, and courteous.  

Here are two examples of business communications. The first is a reply to the customer in the same format as their question. The second showcases the proper letter writing format. 

Customer:  do you have this in red

Reply #1:


Notice that the customer did not provide a salutation, correct punctuation nor did they sign their message. Sometimes it is not even clear which item they may be referring to. The one word colloquial response may seem to match the question; however, this kind of response should be avoided at all costs.

Reply #2

Hi (name of customer/customer screen name),
Thank you for contacting us. We do have this item in red which you can see here (product link).
If you have any other questions or if there is any other way in which we can be of assistance, please let us know.
Thank you,
(Name/ Business)

In the second response you present a professional demeanor and encourage the customer to respond or reply. Regardless of the question, this format will serve you and become second nature when replying to any email or message.

The topic of editing for tone can be tricky. How do you know what tone your message takes?  What is tone? Tone is the general attitude that is perceived when reading a message. When writing a reply if your wording or phrasing is off it can be read as offensive or off putting. You never want to come off as sarcastic, unhelpful or rude. 

Reading and editing for tone is a skill that takes time to hone and develop. If you are unsure about the tone of your message, you can have a friend whose opinion you trust read it or step away and take a minute before rereading it. Below is an example of two messages with different tones. Consider the following two examples.

I don’t like this. The color is different than what I expected.

Reply #1

Hi (Name of customer)
Thank you for contacting us. The color is exactly what we show on our website. It isn’t any different than what you see. You must know that computer screens can vary. Do you want another color?
Thank you,
(Name/ Name of Business)


Reply #2

Hi (Name of Customer)
Thank you for contacting us. We appreciate you reaching out to us. As noted in our listings, colors can vary from computer monitor to computer monitor depending on settings. We would be happy to assist you in finding another color that will meet your needs. 
Please let us know how we can be of assistance.
We look forward to hearing from you,
(Name/Name of Business).

By showcasing two very different responses you can see that while saying the same thing you can present a very different tone. Reply #1 can be read as defensive, harsh, and abrupt.  It sets an antagonistic tone for future communication. The customer will react negatively and the situation will be escalated further. 

Forgotten Cotton infinity scarf and lace and leather cuffs.

Forgotten Cotton infinity scarf and lace and leather cuffs.

Reply #2 is helpful and encourages an open and understanding dialogue with your customer. Think about what you want to say and be sure to edit so that when a customer is reading your message they will see it as helpful and open to communication. It will take time and practice to develop these skills.

Do not be in such a rush to respond to your customer that you don’t take the time to read and edit for tone. Try to read your message as if you are the person receiving it. Even if you feel you have received a correspondence that is harsh or rude you will always want to put aside your feelings and be as professional and courteous as possible. 

Of course, not all situations can be resolved by the methods discussed in this article.  Occasionally, customers can be very difficult regardless of your actions or demeanor. These situations are even more frustrating when you have done everything in your power to assist the customer and deescalate the situation. 

Just remember to stay calm, firm, and never lose your composure – treat each message, even if it is the 10th message, as the first message with a new customer and never allow your emotions, anger, or nerves to dictate your responses even under the most trying circumstances.

Implementing these tips may seem like a lot of work however always remember poor customer service can only makes your job harder. We hope these tried and true tips help you to best serve your business and streamline your customer communications.   

How have you dealt with tricky or angry customer communications? We'd love to know! Please share in the comments.