5 Books Your Customer-Support Team Should Be Reading Right Now

Your customer-support team may never write a book or call themselves writers, but if the majority of their day is spent stringing words together to communicate, then it's worth their time to learn how to do it well.

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By Paul Jun


This story originally appeared on Help Scout

If email support is your core responsibility, then writing to communicate well is your art, and a professional must take his or her art seriously.

In the same way an architect must be adept with his hands and have a love for mathematics, those who do customer support must exercise empathy and communicate it through writing.

As Mark Twain memorably said:

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

Organizations that value providing excellent customer support depend on good writing skills to create those bonds with customers. Solving problems, calming fears, and passing along notes or updates to the team—all of this connection happens through effective writing.

Just think of the emotional difference when a customer reads a well-written, well-structured, heartfelt response versus one that lacks any human element. Good writing enhances the customer experience, and every interaction, no matter how big or small, can be leveraged to create something special.

You may never write a book or call yourself a writer, but if the majority of your day is spent stringing words together to communicate, then it's worth your time to learn how to do it well.

Related: How to Talk to Your Very First Customers

1. On Writing Well

-- William Zinsser

Zinsser extolls simple and clear advice for writers at all levels. Covering the rudimentary aspects of writing like grammar and punctuation, he also delves into the philosophy and art itself.

"Also bear in mind, when you're choosing words and stringing them together, how they sound. This may seem absurd: readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize. Therefore such matters as rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence."

2. The Elements of Style

-- William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

"Rule 17: Omit needless words."

This is a classic for any writer, and reading it once is never enough. This tome of wisdom delivers punchy, clear, and concise advice that remains timeless and immediately practical.

As E.B. White reflected in this Paris Review interview, "He [a writer] should tend to lift people up, not lower them down."

When customers are upset because something doesn't work or their expectations failed, it's good, empathetic writing that can change their per

3. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

-- Steven Pinker

"An aspiring writer could be forgiven for thinking that learning to write is like negotiating an obstacle course in boot camp, with a sergeant barking at you for every errant footfall. Why not think of it instead as a form of pleasurable mastery, like cooking or photography? Perfecting the craft is a lifelong calling, and mistakes are part of the game. Though the quest for improvement may be informed by lessons and honed by practice, it must first be kindled by a delight in the best work of the masters and a desire to approach their excellence."

Related: Phrases to Improve Every Support Interaction

Steven Pinker, a prominent and prolific psycholinguist, explores the question of style with both vivacity and vigor, applying the findings in his field and questioning rules that have stood the test of time.

4. Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively in Business

-- Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson

On September 7th, 1982, David Ogilvy sent a memo to everyone in the agency titled "How to Write." As he stated in his opening, "The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well."

The first hint he gives for writing well is to read Writing That Works not once, but three times.

Aside from responding to emails, you also likely write updates, memos, and provide feedback to your team. Good writing makes all the difference in transferring emotions and knowledge. Bad memos or horribly written emails get ignored because bad writing does not captivate.

5. Bird by Bird

-- Anne Lamott

"Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are."

This book is far different than the ones preceding it—Lamott delves into the life of the writer, including the trials and pitfalls one must face on the path to finding his or her voice, getting published, or simply sitting down to do the work.

While the other books are more directed towards common rules and forms, this book is about connecting with the art, empathizing with the craft, and realizing the good that can come out of this expression. It's a book that I revisit from time to time simply for its goldmine of wisdom on life, writing, and everything in between.

Related: Customer Support Is More Than High Scores

Paul Jun


Paul Jun is the founder and editor of Motivated Mastery, a blog where he connects the dots on mastery, creativity, and change. He does marketing at Help Scout and coaches for the altMBA.

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