How to frame customer service emails and letters positively

Policy documents

Here’s a little experiment for you:

Don’t think about a red table. Don’t! Really don’t think about a red table with a yellow pot on top of it that’s in the corner of the room next to an umbrella.

Even though there’s an instruction not to think about the red table, yellow pot, corner of the room and the umbrella, your brain has already painted the picture for you. It may not quite have factored in the umbrella – but there’s definitely an image of a red table with a yellow pot on it in your head now.

This happens because we all process information in two ways at the same time. The first way takes split-seconds, and is intuitive. The other takes a little longer and is more of a rational piecing together of information.

Our fast, split-second information processing is just as hardwired into us as it was into our cave-dwelling ancestors. It’s about quickly assessing whether we’re looking at threat or opportunity. It’s a quick and dirty process. It’s not mega-accurate, but in survival terms, it’s usually good enough to get you out of a scrape.

For our ancestors, this “gut” thinking gave them an extra couple of seconds to flee a threat – or get ready to beat it off. In safer, modern times, we still do quick “gut” absorbing of information – and it still gives us our first impression of a situation.

So in the red table example, our quick thinking brain has already formed an impression of:

Red table, yellow pot

So even though your more completist rational brain might catch up and think, Oh, OK I shouldn’t be thinking about that – it’s too late, you already are.

Here’s another thought:

How often have you seen communications from companies that describe services or approaches in terms of what they’re not? For example:

We’re not your average bank.

Our proven process means there are no nasty surprises.

The rest are average and blah – but we are beautiful and bold.

These approaches to communications mean well, but they haven’t taken account of the way our brains process information.

Despite what the author of the examples intended, our gut thinking has already given us the impression of:

Average bank

Process nasty surprises

Average and blah meaningful bold… what?

In customer service emails and letters, this is an easy trap to fall into – especially when a customer is already unhappy or you’re trying to manage expectations. So you can end up with communications that contain sentences like this:

Our investigation will take two weeks and we will be unable to contact you during this time. We will contact you with an outcome once the investigation is complete.

The fast, intuitive part of our brain makes an impression based on something like:

Investigation, two weeks, unable, contact

…which is hardly inspiring.


Failure to complete all address fields could result in delays in delivery.

Our fast, intuitive brain has formed a picture based on:

Failure, address, delays

To get your reader – or indeed, the person you’re talking to – feeling more positive about your communication, you need to reframe it. Flip it, so that you lead with positive thoughts and give your customers a positive gut-feel impression:

We make banking better.

You’ll have peace of mind, knowing exactly what’s happening at every stage.

More beautiful and bolder than the rest.

You’re conveying exactly the same information, but you’re doing it positively.

We’ll contact you the moment we’ve completed a thorough review. This could take up to two weeks.

We want to deliver this to you quickly – so please fill in all the fields.

You can find out more about our approach to customer services communications here.

You might also find these posts interesting:

The art of creating brilliant customer service email templates

Three ways to give automated and templated customer communications more impact

Is it time to Kon Mari your customer service templates?