Writing

Why I Stopped Using 'Actually' and 'But' In My Customer Service Emails

Chief Happiness Officer
3 min read
This story originally appeared on Buffer

One of my favorite “happiness hacks” has been to attempt to remove the word “actually” from my vocabulary.

This has been remarkably hard to do, and I still have to struggle not to let it past my lips or fingers. At Buffer, we have found that there is a small band of words that takes away from your message, and “actually” is their leader.

It almost doesn’t matter how good the news is; if it comes after “actually,” I feel like I was somehow wrong about something.

Related: I Admit It. I Have No Idea What I'm Doing. (And That's a Good Thing.)

Consider these two sentences:

Actually, you can do this under “Settings.”

Sure thing, you can do this under “Settings!” :)

Certainly, there are other differences between those two sentences besides the word “actually.” We try to aim for the second one at Buffer for several reasons.

Bottom line is, if customers take time out of their lives to ask us a question, thus teaching us about areas of confusion in our app, we’d love if they never have any occasion to feel stupid, or wrong, or corrected.

It’s amazing how much brighter my writing (and speaking) gets when I go through and lose the “actuallies.”

Related: How to Name Your Startup

While I’m at it, I try to get rid of the “buts” too.

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.

Feel different? When I substitute my “buts” for exclamation points, I feel so much happier with my message.

You can see more examples in the tone guide we recently published describing how we write for our customers in emails, on Twitter, with product messages, at our blog, and everywhere else we might interact. The main principle behind our tone is this:

To the customer, our language and tone say: I am grateful for you. I have great respect for you. I am listening. I am open. I am here.

Working on getting rid of words like “actually” and “but” help us to get closer to living that principle every day.

Related: The Science Behind Why Small Teams Work More Productively

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