One of our favorite clients has empowered us to respond to customer correspondence on his behalf. He happens to know he is not a writer. This, by the way, makes him a rare and refreshing gem.
Whether to a positive or negative letter, I have three rules for replying.
1. Read what the customer wrote. The WHOLE thing. Don’t stop after a few lines and assume you can default to Generic Reply Number 17. If something crucial that would have led to sending Generic Reply Number 5 is buried a few lines down, you will end up looking like you weren’t paying full attention. Which you weren’t.
2. Your customer took the time to write. Cite specifics in your reply that show you took the time to read. A generic “we’re sorry your experience wasn’t optimal” doesn’t cut it. How about: “I’m so sorry your bumper fell off less than 10 minutes after leaving our body shop.” While you’re at it, adding a word of validation—like, “That must have been awful!”—can go a long way toward assuaging. (Worried about admitting to being less than perfect? No need. Your customer already knows. That’s why he or she wrote in the first place, remember?)
3. Use real language. Any business that replies with the likes of “… we strive to provide the utmost in customer service ...” deserves to lose customers. This is better: “Sounds like we blew it. Thank you for calling it to my attention and giving me a chance to make things right. Here’s what I’d like to do for you …”
If you wish to create standard replies for standard queries, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just be sure to write them with warmth, and that you truly respond to the points the customer raised. And just in case, always remain at the ready to break down and write something original should the situation call for it.