How to Send Better Email – Without Second-Guessing a Single Word

send better emailHave 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 percent 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?

An email template for shaving 20 hours off your work week

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

Jane,

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!

— Robbie

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.

How Michael Hyatt says no to guest bloggers

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.

Dear [Name]:

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.

Kind regards,

Michael

Here’s how he says no to invitations to guest blog.

Dear [Name]:

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.

Kind regards,

Michael

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.

email snippet example wireframe

Email snippets for saying no

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.

7 simple sentences to set better boundaries

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:

  1. The Deferral: “I’m swamped right now, but feel free to follow up.”
  2. The Referral: “I’m not qualified to do what you’re asking, but here’s something else.”
  3. The Introduction: “This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful.”
  4. The Bridge: “You two are working toward common goals.”
  5. The Triage: “Meet my colleague, who will set up a time to chat.”
  6. The Batch: “Others have posed the same question, so let’s chat together.”
  7. 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.

How to send the best emails to your customers

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)

  • Feedback
  • Inconvenience
  • This issue
  • That isn’t
  • This isn’t
  • We don’t
  • No
  • 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

What to Say in an Email

Magic Phrases:

“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.”

Power replies:

“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.”

email example

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.

What to say instead of “Let me know if you have any questions”

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?

email sample

(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.

Out with the “buts,” in with the exclamations

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.

find replace but

Conclusion

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!

Image credits: 

  • http://www.caitlinmuir.com Caitlin Muir

    Love, love, LOVE these ideas. They can be adapted for any job. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sharing with the rest of my division!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi there, Caitlin! Really glad to hear these ideas were helpful for you! Hope your division likes them, too!

  • Philip Mai

    Thank you Kevin for sharing these great email tips! You always provide the best actionable advice. I will have to adapt these into a ppt and sharing them with my students!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Sounds great, Philip! I’d love to see the ppt when it’s finished, too!

  • GK

    Good article! I substitute ‘but’ with ‘and’ to make the conversation far more collaborative

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi there! Thanks so much for the tip! “And” is a great communicative tool indeed. It reminds me of that rule of improv, to always respond with “Yes, and …” to any situation!

  • cindykendall

    Great ideas. Here is a consideration – on your “use liberally” list is “this sucks”. While it can convey empathy and agreement, it can also be taken negatively. In many workplaces, “sucks” isn’t an appropriate response to any situation. So while responding via email on an individual level, recognize you also have clients/users who may be anticipating a more professional response. Therefore it would be important to carefully select from that list, taking into consideration the recipient of the comment!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Cindy! Great point! That’s one you definitely need to be careful of!

  • http://hubskills.com/ Partha Bhattacharya

    What a coincidence! I just came across an article on what keeps readers engaged in Peep Laja’s blog. The author of the article says, no matter what, expect to loose 30% email subscribers every year. It’d be great to learn from your experience, Kevin, as to what keeps readers engaged over time. Many emailers I’ve seen simply bombard their promos relentlessly throughout the year. I’m so curious to know, do they succeed? What’s the optimum frequency to send emails/newsletters for an average Joe like many of us?

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Partha! Those are such excellent questions, and ones I’m constantly think about with our Buffer lists. :) I’ll be sure to share my findings on the Buffer blog!

  • Jeff Schultz

    Thank you, Kevan! This one is being shared and stored in my Pocket for future reference. Could you take this theme a step further and dig into effective email salutations? I’m always stuck with Take care, Talk soon, or Thank you, (There must be more great examples to find and adopt!)

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Jeff! I very nearly stuck in a section about salutations! I’m so glad you asked about it! Here’s a link to one of the more interesting articles I found on the topic: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/180872

  • http://atulmalla.wordpress.com Atul Malla

    Read. Loved. Bookmarked. Thank you for writing this post Kevan. This will save me hours. Thanks again :)

  • http://www.petrpinkas.blogspot.com/ Petr Pinkas

    What a great article Kevan, thanks for that. Awesome examples, saving it right now to my Evernote and will get back to it every time I struggle with replies and emails.. I agree on most of it. Will share it with my colleagues. This seems like an “emailchanger” ..

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Petr! Thanks! So glad to hear this one hit home for you. :)

  • http://www.bigimprint.com/ Ethan Anderson

    This is brilliant! So much gold in this post. For me, the biggest one is the “Let me know if you have any other questions.” I’ve used that for so long, but now that I think about it, it does sound pretty lame and robotic. I’m going to change my behavior immediately for our website clients. Thanks Kevan!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Ethan! That one was huge for me, too! I’ve given so much more thought to email since I learned that one. :)

  • http://www.rajiv.com/ Rajiv Pant

    @kevanlee:disqus, I love your post. I’ll adapt and save some of these snippets into TextExpander for my own use. I had written a related post about responding to meeting requests that you may find interesting: http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2013/11/09/how-to-reply-to-meeting-requests/

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Thanks, Rajiv!

  • http://www.tryworldrecipes.com zhicken

    I like these suggestions, thanks for sharing! I used to have the word “respectfully” at the start of my email signature. Getting rid of it and actually thinking about what my final word should be made a huge difference in my emails.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Makes a lot of sense! So glad the new email flow feels better to you!

  • AnanthramGK

    Good Glaciers of Saying NO without any landslidings ! “Do Not blurt;Need not Hurt ! -is the Wisdom in this -“”Build Up Relation ; Contain Emotion -“” Article !
    Absolutely Elevated reading

  • Vandziux

    Awesome, for me its a treasure chest , thank you for sharing. I already bookmarked this post. Will definitely use it :)

  • TakeActionWAHM

    Wow… so much great information in one post. I love the “take out the ‘buts'” part – I really make a huge effort to do that with my kids – When you use “but”, it often negates everything you said before it. “You did an awesome job with this, BUT…” I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to use it in business too.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      I hope this tips works wonders on your business emails! :)

  • http://JoyHealey.com Joy Healey

    Great points. Thanks. I will be watching my words in future :)

  • HDSplash

    Thank you for these great ideas. We will be using them right away.

  • Rabbi Ruth Adar

    Kevan, I love all of this. But I think you buried the lede – the most compelling lines for me are the ones having to do with pleasant boundary setting, the ways to say “no” without being mean or nasty.

    Buffer is a GREAT resource – I could not manage my social media work without it. Honestly, though, your ongoing tips like this are the great hidden benefit to being a Buffer user.

  • valeriekeener

    Great ideas!!!

  • Anna Loredana Orlando

    Very well done. Nothing more to add!

  • http://about.me/vijaysood Vijay Sood

    With changing environment, it has become essential to change the communication methodology too. There were times when customers wanted you to be formal in your approach. But, these days, they are so much surrounded by machines, that they are searching for human and personalized experience. I remember chatting with @marycjantsch of Bufferapp and while providing solution to my problems, she told me “to shout in case of any problems” in future. That was really connecting on her part.

  • http://about.me/vijaysood Vijay Sood

    With changing environment, it has become essential to change the communication methodology too. There were times when customers wanted you to be formal in your approach. But, these days, they are so much surrounded by machines, that they are searching for human and personalized experience. I remember chatting with @marycjantsch of Bufferapp and while providing solution to my problems, she told me “to shout in case of any problems” in future. That was really connecting on her part.

  • Suresh Shanmugam

    Thank you very much Kevan, Very insightful . I really going to use in my emails and also going to share with my peers.

  • http://seed.jobs Abakar Saidov

    Kevan, these are really great. Thank you for sharing. This is compulsory reading :)

  • around.io

    I am one of those ““Let me know if you have any questions” person, or I should say, I was one of those ;) Great article, awesome insights. Thanks for writeup Kevan.

  • revtallen

    Using “and” instead of “but” often completely changes the tone, as well.

  • Carolina Mesquita

    Thanks Kevan, I’ll be trying to use the “full words”!

  • Alison Hardy

    Thank you for making me stop and think, Kevan – we become anaesthetised to cliches, don’t we!

  • Sheena Sharma

    Wow! I LOVE all of the suggestions, but the customer-facing ones are KEY. Removing “but” and “actually” are wonderful suggestions. I tried to do this today as I was responding to some customer requests and it really made a difference in my communications!