Have you ever received an amazing email, one that you’d like to print out and pin to your wall, one that made you grin from ear to ear or slow-clap in appreciation and reverence?
When I come across these gems, I drop them into a "Snippets" folder. I study them, I swoon over them, and I borrow bits and pieces of them to send better email.
Now imagine that every email you send is as great as these occasional all-stars you receive.
Impossible? Not at all.
Worth shooting for? Definitely.
At Buffer, we strive for 100% awesomeness in the emails we send to customers, and that pursuit of excellence carries over to the emails we send to teammates, colleagues, friends, and family. We want to send better email, the kind that delivers the intended message plus the desired emotion.
So I’m happy to share some of my sources of email inspiration. These are the templates and snippets that have caught my attention over the past few months, and which I’m hoping to include in more of my communication in the inbox. Think you might like to try any of these out in your daily emailing?
Author Robbie Abed took to LinkedIn to share a pair of emails that he had used successfully to shave his workweek from 60 hours to 40 hours.
Here is email number one, which is to be sent on Monday.
Subject: My plan for the week
After reviewing my activities here is my plan for the week in order of priority. Let me know if you think I should re-prioritize:
Planned Major Activities for the week
1) Complete project charter for X Project
2) Finish the financial analysis report that was started last week
3) Kick off Project X – requires planning and prep documentation creation. Scheduled for Thursday.
Open items that I will look into, but won’t get finished this week
1) Coordinate activities for year-end financial close
2) Research Y product for our shared service team
Let me know if you have any comments. Thank you!
The clear intention here is to set the expectation for the week ahead and give a supervisor a clear understanding of what you’re working on.
Then, on Friday, you send a second email, summarizing what you completed during the week and noting any open items that need further attention or follow-up from colleagues.
The idea here is simple: Set expectations early on in the week and follow through at the end of the week. According to Abed, this provides clear boundaries on your time, it shows your supervisor that you are responsible and organized, and—if everything goes according to plan—it might get you out of the office on Friday having worked zero overtime.
Author and speaker Michael Hyatt gets a lot of email requests for a lot of different things. One of the most popular requests is for guest blogging – either bloggers who wish to submit guest posts to his site or other sites looking for Hyatt to write for theirs.
Here’s how he says no to guest blog pitches.
Thanks for your interest in being a guest blogger on my site. I am grateful that you took the time to write this post and submit it. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to use it.
I have received scores of submissions—more than I expected. As a result, I am having to turn down many well-written posts, including yours. Sometimes this is because the topics overlap or the posts are too general for my audience. Regardless, because of my time constraints, I can’t really provide more detailed feedback.
I wish you the best in your writing endeavors. If you have another post, I would be happy to consider it.
Here’s how he says no to invitations to guest blog.
Thanks so much for thinking of me as a potential guest blogger. I am honored.
Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time. It is all I can do to keep up with my own blog! As a result, I’m afraid I will have to decline your kind invitation.
Again, thanks for thinking of me.
I’ve been on the sending and receiving end of similar emails several times over the past few months. I happened to save a favorite "thanks but no thanks" snippet that I thought sounded appreciative and kind yet still said no.
I’d love to take part and it sounds like an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately I’ll have to pass, as I’m currently a little over-committed and won’t be able to make the time right now.
In the examples above, Michael Hyatt said no to guest blogging. That’s a great start. And what about the scores of other opportunities we may need to turn down throughout the week?
Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time coach and trainer, shared a series of snippets for saying no in a post published on 99U. She seemingly had a "no" snippet for any scenario. Here are a few of my favorites.
When you receive perpetual last-minute requests:
I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to other (coworkers, clients, etc.) to complete their projects today. It wouldn’t be fair to them to not follow through on what I said I would do. I will be sure to fit this in as soon as possible. Thanks for your understanding.
When people ask you about everything instead of directly contacting the appropriate person:
That’s not my area of expertise. I would be happy to connect you with someone who could best help you solve this problem.
When you’re given an exceptionally short deadline:
I know this project is a high priority for you, and if it’s absolutely necessary for me to turn something in by that date, I can make it happen. But if I could have a few more (days, weeks, etc.), I could really deliver something of higher quality. Would it be possible for me to have a bit more time?
When asked to do something optional that you can’t commit to right now:
I appreciate you thinking of me, and I’m honored by the request. But unfortunately, I don’t have the time to give this my best right now. I think you would benefit from finding someone who can devote more time and energy to this project.
Could it even be as simple as a sentence? Wharton professor Adam Grant has a pretty quick list of seven different sentences that might work to set boundaries on your work/home life. Here’s the list:
- The Deferral: "I’m swamped right now, but feel free to follow up."
- The Referral: "I’m not qualified to do what you’re asking, but here’s something else."
- The Introduction: "This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful."
- The Bridge: "You two are working toward common goals."
- The Triage: "Meet my colleague, who will set up a time to chat."
- The Batch: "Others have posed the same question, so let’s chat together."
- The Relational Account: "If I helped you, I’d be letting others down."
Of these seven, I’ve had a chance to try Nos. 1 and 3 just in the past week. The first felt great, as it truly was an opportunity I was excited to pursue yet the timing just wasn’t ideal. Sentence No. 3 felt just as good; had I committed, I would have been way in over my head. So not only was I able to set a boundary, I was able to ensure that the work was completed the best way possible.
In The Customer Support Handbook: How to Create the Ultimate Customer Experience For Your Brand, Sarah Hatter describes in expert detail exactly which words and phrases should be used in a modern-day customer conversation (and which shouldn’t).
Empty words (Do not use)
- This issue
- That isn’t
- This isn’t
- We don’t
- We’re unable to
- I can’t
Full words (Use liberally)
- Thank you!
- I’m really sorry
- This sucks
- I know this is frustrating
- You’re right
- That’s a great idea!
- Let me check and get back to you
- Thanks for sharing your idea / thoughts / taking the time to help improve the product
"You’re right." "I’d love to help with this." "I can fix this for you." "Let me look into this for you." "I’ll keep you updated."
"You’re right, we could definitely do this better." "Thanks for being open and honest about your experience so we can learn from it." "I really appreciate you helping us improve our process—we don’t want this to happen again." "I know this is a huge disruption to your day and I’m working to get it fixed."
I had a chance to use the "disruption" line just today with a customer who had a less-than-ideal experience. I’m not sure if my choice of words was what won him over or not. I am happy to say that he was super pleased to receive my reply—nothing to sneeze at for a customer we might have wronged.
Chris Gallo at Support Ops has an interesting, applicable way of looking at that all-so-common wrap-up to the emails we send. How do you end your conversations on email? Seems like we typically choose one of these cookie-cutter signoffs.
- "Please let me know if you have any questions."
- "If you have any other problems, just let me know."
- "If there is anything else you need, please let me know."
Compare this with how you end conversations in real life. Gallo points out that none of us talk this way to our friends and family; why should we talk this way to our beloved customers?
Perhaps the best example Gallo cites is this one:
If there is anything else you need, please let me know.
Should I need something else? Am I going to need something else soon? Are you saying that I’m needy?
Instead of the stock answers, try these questions, which sound more human and feel more conversational.
- Does this help you?
- Did that answer your question? And does it make sense?
- Anything else that I can help with today?
(The above example comes from Chase Clemons’s Support Ops email guide, which has loads more examples, if you’re interested.)
I’ve been trying these new signoffs in my personal emails for the past couple weeks, and I will say that it can be a little disarming at first. I definitely felt the urge to end with a token platitude rather than an open-ended "Does this help you?"
Fortunately, it gets easier the more you use it. And I’ve had many meaningful conversations that I might not have had otherwise.
This one I’ve borrowed from our Chief Happiness Officer Carolyn who wrote about her removal of every instance of "but" and "actually" from her customer support emails.
With "but," Carolyn removes the conjunction and replaces it with an exclamation point, splitting one compound sentence into two simpler ones.
Sentence 1: I really appreciate you writing in, but unfortunately we don’t have this feature available.
Sentence 2: I really appreciate you writing in! Unfortunately, we don’t have this feature available.
With "actually," she removes the word entirely, often opting for a new word or phrase to open the sentence.
Sentence 1: Actually, you can do this under "Settings."
Sentence 2: Sure thing, you can do this under "Settings!" :)
I was inspired by these examples, so much so that I’ve gone to the extreme and attempted to remove all "buts" from the blogposts I write and the conversations I have. It’s interesting, even if I’m unable to followthrough 100 percent of the time, just to note how often the word might come up. I’m prone to use it more often than I thought.
Do you think any of these email samples and snippets might be useful to you as you communicate with colleagues and friends?
What are your go-to email words and phrases?
I’ve found that recognizing great emails is one thing, and using them is another. This is why I started cataloging the emails I love and referring to them regularly when I need inspiration on what to say. I go with a fairly straightforward copy-and-paste, which can take a bit of time. The SupportOps crew (and many of our Buffer heroes) use Text Expander to have snippets available via a keyboard shortcut.
I’d be keen to hear what you’ve come up with for saving and sending your favorite emails. Feel free to share your experience in the comments!
This article originally appeared in Buffer and is reprinted with permission.