by E-WRITE's Leslie O'Flahavan

March 27, 2014

Instant Messaging at Work? Eight Ways to Avoid Annoying Your Colleagues

Instant_Message_ScreenYou've mastered report and proposal writing. You can write a tidy performance review and a compelling letter of commendation. You write concise emails, provocative blog posts, and pithy tweets. But no, that's not enough. You've just learned that your company is adding instant messaging to your at-work communication options.*

Follow these writing tips and you'll get the most out of IM without driving your colleagues crazy.

1. Ask, “Is now a good time?” Add, “I have a question about…” IM is the most interruptive channel, unless you consider a toddler a “channel.” IM is, by its nature, a convenient tool for interrupting your colleagues in whatever they were doing. So when you start an IM exchange, ask if it’s convenient and briefly explain what your question is. If you start the IM conversation this way, you’ll get more of your colleague’s attention.

2. Provide an estimate of how much of the other person’s time you need. Instead of writing “Can you discuss the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting now?” ask, “Do you have five minutes now to go over the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting?” Just be sure you’ve accurately estimated the amount of time you need. Don’t try the old five-minute-fakeout when you really need 15 minutes.

3. Write short, tweet-length IMs. Keeping your IMs short does require some skill and practice, but doing so will prevent you and your colleague from writing across each other. If you go on too long, the other person may begin answering before you’re done, and then the whole exchange can devolve into a “What? Wait…” mess.

4. Use conventional spelling and punctuation. You’re at work, and your IMs are a form of professional communication. Spelling mistakes or missing punctuation just make your writing harder to read.

5. Control your tone. You think this is difficult in email? It’s much harder to control your IM tone. Because you’re crafting such short messages, it’s easy to come across as cranky. To overcome the limits of the channel, you’re going to have to try to sound friendly. Say thank you. Write full, if short, sentences. For example, “Can you explain?” sounds friendlier than “What?!”

6. Use a prepared phrase to end the IM if you need to. A phone call, an important email, or an actual live person might interrupt an IM conversation, so plan what you’ll say if you have to end the IM abruptly – and it will need to be more elegant than “gotta run.” Try these:

  • I’ve got a phone call now, so I will be back in touch [insert timeframe].
  • Can we continue this [insert timeframe]? I have to take a call/meet with Fred/respond to an email.

7. Know when to switch from IM to another channel: phone, meeting, or email. IM is best for talking about simple, direct topics or asking questions: “How many people from this office are going to the trade show?” or “Did Brian send the wireframes to the client yesterday?” If you need to have an open-ended discussion, choose a different channel.

8. DATM. That stands for Don’t Abbreviate Too Much, and you’re right – no one uses that abbreviation. I invented it to make a point. If the person you’re IMing doesn’t know the abbreviation you’re using, it’s a problem. Use few abbreviations and that problem is less likely to come up.

* Yes, I know it isn't 2005. Most companies aren't just now adding old school instant messaging. But your employer may be asking everyone to use Skype chat or the Chatter Messenger in Salesforce for internal communication. The software may have changed, but the interruptions just keep coming, don't they?!

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March 5, 2014

FedEx's Post-Purchase Survey Request: Good Manners or Faux Pas?

Companies, we customers know you want our post-purchase feedback. We know your stores, hotels, salespeople, and customer service agents receive recognition and rewards when customer satisfaction survey scores are high. We used to be surprised when the waiter handed us the receipt for our credit card payment, circled the URL for the post-cheesecake satisfaction survey, and turned big puppy-dog eyes to us, saying "If you've been happy with my service this evening, I'd really appreciate it if you'd complete a brief online survey."

Today, requests for survey feedback are very common at the point of purchase or immediately after we receive service. We're not surprised by these surveys anymore. Recently, though, I was surprised and unhappy about a post-purchase survey request I received from FedEx Office. On February 5, when I paid for my copies in the store, the woman who helped me politely asked me to complete an online survey. She circled the survey URL on the paper receipt she handed me. While she had given me good service, I did not complete the survey. I just didn't feel like it. I'm pretty sure that 95% of customers make the same choice I made that day.

A week later, I received this survey request email from FedEx Office:


This whole experience seems too close for comfort. Here's why:

  • I didn't fill out the survey because I don't want to fill out the survey. It's not an accident. Reminding me won't make me want to do it.
  • I didn't tell FedEx Office I was staying at the Hyatt, so how do they know? This is really creeping me out. I try to ignore Big Data, and I don't like to be reminded that companies can automatically compare my billing address to the store address and conclude, correctly, that I am a visitor not a resident.
  • I didn't explicitly give FedEx permission to email me this way. Yes, I've got a FedEx account and I did place my order for the copies online, so FedEx Office has my email address. I do expect FedEx Office to send me order confirmations and receipts via email. I wouldn't be at all surprised if FedEx Office emailed me a survey request for services I'd purchased online. But when I've purchased something in the store, I expect the survey request to happen there, if at all. Just because you have my email address, doesn't mean you should use it at will.
  • I simply can't figure out "What's in it for me?" I guess it would be somewhat OK if FedEx Office stalked my inbox to offer me something, but this isn't an offer. The only one who gains when I complete the survey is FedEx Office.

What do you think about this practice? Do you react the same way I did? Let me know by email or in the comments, below.

P.S. You know I can't end a blog post without commenting on (picking on?!) the writing:

  • Spelling. It may be just a typo, but "preformed" is unfortunate. Sometimes, spell check just can't save you.
  • Subject line. I hope FedEx Office has tested the "Thank You" subject line, and that they have hard data that it causes more opens and survey responses than an explicit subject line like "Please complete our survey." I find the "Thank You" subject line deceptive.
  • Glib corporate customer-service-speak. If you just don't think about it, the sentence "I sincerely hope we performed above your expectations" kinda-sorta makes sense. But if you do think about it, the sentence -- and the concept -- crumbles. Why does FedEx Office have to hope it did more than I expected? Isn't it enough to just do what the customer wanted and paid for?


Update: FedEx Office's reply to my tweet about this post

While I certainly appreciate the fact that FedEx Office noted that I had tweeted their handle, this tweet from "Lizzie" -- who must be a robot of some type -- isn't an example of high-touch customer service!


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February 13, 2014

Seven Ways a Single Marketing Email Can Destroy Your Relationship With Customers

I love to quilt. It’s my hobby. And like most hobbyists, I love to shop. (Sometimes I love shopping for quilt stuff more than making quilts.) My favorite quilt shop is about 10 miles from my home. Over the last five years, when many fabric stores have gone out of business, my favorite quilt shop is thriving: more classes, more fabrics, more equipment… and more marketing.

So that’s why I am really sad to receive this “Did we miss your birthday?” email from the shop. It’s a primer on email blunders. If you want to convince loyal customers to block you from sending them emails and to shop elsewhere, just follow the quilt shop’s lead.

Here’s the email:


Here’s how the quilt shop violated seven basic principles of email marketing:

1. Use the From name to identify your company. This email is from “Kat Martinez.” Am I supposed to know who that is? Any name I don’t recognize sounds spammy and creepy. “Kat Martinez” sounds as bad as the other spammers my filter’s already caught: “BabyComeBack,” “Harold Cain,” “Rosey Glow,” and “The Fixer.”

2. Fill in the To name. This comes across as classic spray-and-pray email marketing. Without my name in the To line, I can tell this company doesn’t know who I am. I’m not even a complete listing in their customer database, though I’ve spent $$$ at the shop and willingly shared my email address with them in the past.

3. Make an offer that doesn’t cost me personal info. Don’t ask about my birthday. These days, I’m so hinky about compromising my privacy that I’m denying I have a birth date at all.

4. Make a specific offer. Why do you want my birthday, anyway? How are you going to celebrate? There’s no way I’m giving you personal information unless I understand what you’re going to do with it and how I will gain.  And why would you ask me if you’ve missed my birthday when I’ve never shared with you? How is a Birthday Wish different from a birthday wish? What’s with the initial caps?

5. Focus the email on a single specific offer. After you’ve confused me about the Birthday Wish, you introduce another offer altogether. What is the Wish List “program”? How is it a program? Isn’t it just a list? A gift registry? If it were a program of some type, wouldn’t it include some incentives or discounts? Why are you making things so complicated?

6. Make it possible to complete a simple task online. Why on earth would I want to print the Wish List form, fill it out by hand then drive to the store to drop it off? Surely this form could be completed online. Surely it could be a fillable PDF, which I could email to you. SURELY WE COULD PRETEND IT’S THE 1990s AND I COULD FAX IT TO YOU. Do I really have to drive on over and drop it off?

7. Include your visual branding in all marketing. I recognize this store’s logo. I feel just a little bit happy when I see the logo because it reminds me of the expert help I’ve received in the store and the beautiful projects I’ve made. If this email comes from them, where’s the logo? Why wouldn’t they want to tap into all those good feelings?

This quilt shop isn’t a mom-and-pop operation. It’s a growing business with a loyal customer base. Whoever is doing the shop’s marketing needs to write emails that don’t mystify customers and compromise their relationship with the store. After all, your marketing isn’t supposed to cost you business!

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January 30, 2014

Resources for Writing Great Chat to Customers

Whether you're just launching chat in your contact center or you're trying to help veteran chat agents do a better job, we have lots of resources for you.



Blog posts




Quality Monitoring Form




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January 21, 2014

Interview: "Using Chat for Customer Service"

This summer, I was honored to be interviewed by Freya Purnell for SOCAP Australia's Consumer Directions magazine. Download the full article, "Using Chat for Customer Service," and you'll read my advice about chat as well as that of Kirby Mears, online performance manager at UBank. Here is a selection of chat Do's and Don'ts from the interview.

The Do's of Live Chat

  • Offer live chat for specific business cases, and keep some limits on which customers can initiate a chat. This places some boundaries on what the substance of the chat will be, making it easier for agents to be prepared. At UBank, customers must trigger certain business rules to be offered a chat – for example, if a customer is on a particular web page for longer than three minutes, a pop-up will appear to find out if they have any questions or need help and would like to initiate a chat.
  • Make available all the information sources an agent might need to dip into to help a customer in real time. “Because chat is live and because it integrates the online world with the service channel, agents should be ready to search for information in a way that they don’t have to be on email,” says O’Flahavan.
  • Use clarifying questions. “For agents whose first channel of interaction is the phone, sometimes email can be really frustrating because you can’t help the customer clarify the question. In chat, you can, and so you should exploit chat for its ability to help you figure out what the customer is really asking and really needs,” says O’Flahavan.
  • Take cues from the customer’s language to dial up or dial down formality. “We have a few levels of scripting – I am personally of the opinion that it needs to be very focused on how the customer wants to deal with us, rather than just following rules and regulations,” Mears says. Shorter exchanges will create a more informal, conversational tone.
  • Use language about how the interaction is going. For example, ‘Did I answer your question?’, or ‘Do you think that item is the type you would like to buy?’. “Both the task and the tone is more interactive,” O’Flahavan says.
  • Ensure agents know how to disengage from a prank, or from rude, scatological or pornographic discussions.


The Don'ts of Live Chat

  • Cross-sell or up-sell while you are solving a problem. “It’s very easy to do in chat because you can push a link at any time. Many chat vendors propose pushing links as a way of helping agents engage in multiple chats and therefore buy them some time when they can be less attentive to each customer. It’s a really bad idea,” says O’Flahavan.
  • Leave the customer waiting too long for your next response. “The agent may leave the chat for quite a long time without the customer asking ‘Are you are still there?’, if the agent has managed the time expectations in the chat, and if the agent’s departure is because they are pursuing an answer on this customer’s behalf, not because they’re serving another customer,” O’Flahavan says.
  • Rush to complete the chat with ‘do you have any more questions?’. Keep the customer engaged. Expect chat to instantly solve problems. “It is more of an evolutionary process than most other new initiatives I’ve seen,” says Mears.
  • Throw new customer service staff into the deep end with chat. “I would never expect someone on their first day to be able to do chat. It is certainly one of those channels where you need to pay your dues – the underlying documentation that is available to the agent is very important, and how familiar and confident they are is very important,” says Mears.


Read the full article, "Using Chat for Customer Service."

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