1. Tone Basics

Our tone is the most important part of our communication, and you should pay attention to your tone in every email. Buffer's tone guide is a fantastic resource, and we borrow a lot from it. MailChimp also has an excellent overview of their voice and tone, which I think applies to any company:

You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes...You wouldn't use the same tone of voice with someone who's scared or upset as you would with someone who's laughing. Same goes for MailChimp's voice. Our voice doesn’t change much from day to day, but our tone changes all the time.

When you’re writing, consider the reader's state of mind. Is she relieved to be finished with a campaign? Mad that she can’t log in? Confused about which merge tag to use? Adjust your tone accordingly.

Our voice is empathetic and helpful. We are happy to help, and our language should reflect this willingness.

However, our tone can adjust based on what we're doing and how the customer feels. Are we teaching how to do something? We should be encouraging and explicit. Are we responding to a disappointed customer? We should also be empathetic and apologetic (no jokes, even self-deprecating).

Our communication should be clear and consistent, and using some writing guidelines helps with this. Here are some common rules that apply to every written piece of communication, from documentation and emails to blog posts.

Tone Commandments

  1. Proper English and grammar are important; read out loud before sending an email. The entire team is happy to help with proofreading or answer questions, but you must always proof an email before sending.
  2. We only write in all caps if we REALLY FEEL something. Like, "I'm SO sorry about this! The issue never should have occurred." We NEVER yell at customers or use caps outside of expressing all.the.sorries (or acronyms). Not for emphasis, not to draw attention. Never.
  3. We always ask the merchant to do something; we don't tell them. Not: "Please try again". Instead, "Could you please try again?" They're always free to say 'no'.
  4. We use the simple language that merchants understand. Not: "There is a javascript conflict causing a syntax error." (Unless you know you're talking to a developer.) Instead, "I'm afraid I'm seeing a code conflict, which is preventing the checkout process from completing."
  5. We empathize with merchants; it's okay if they're frustrated or annoyed, and we will acknowledge this, apologize, and emphasize that we'll work together to resolve any issues. Software ain't easy.
  6. We ask questions to figure out what's wrong. It's okay to take an extra email to resolve a conversation to help you get more details or clarification.
  7. Use positive language whenever possible. No one likes to hear, "I can't...{do something}." Instead, always start with what you can do. Merchants read emails, docs, or posts because they want a solution, not an explanation or an excuse.
  8. Avoid American-centric euphemisms in communication that can be read internationally, such as our blog, docs, and first emails. American phrases can be used when you know you're talking to a native English speaker.
  9. Finally, be a human. You have quirks, likes, and stories, and it's okay to share them. This humanizes the customer service experience, and helps merchants remember that you're a person, too. Tell them you like their site, thank them for reading our blog, or share your love of healthy snacks if they sell gluten-free snack bars.