Pitfalls and pratfalls of email templates

Writing emails to customers is hard. There’s a temptation to draw on other people’s ‘proven’ or ‘successful’ template messages to help you come across in the best possible way.

The downside is that, for the most part, these templates are absolutely terrible. As an example, a few months ago I got a message that looked approximately like this:


I’m writing to follow up on our last conversation. My boss asked me for an update on your account. I told him I didn’t have one. I’m not sure if it makes sense to continue the conversation.

What makes sense as a next step, if any?


What’s wrong with this message? Well, when I got it, I got a definite feeling of annoyance. Something was distinctly off with the tone. So, to assess it, I ran this message through our Email Edge analyzer.

As the analysis suggested, it scored at the low end for empathy. That shouldn’t be a surprise: the message is very low in empathy. There’s no real acknowledgement of the recipient — it’s all about the sender and their needs. It’s all “I” (never “you”) but not about the sender’s feelings. It’s emotionally negative. There’s no positive, no warm fuzzy, nothing. There’s even a hint of playing the victim (“My boss asked me for an update on your account. I told him I didn’t have one”). The message fails to connect with the recipient on every human level.

A few months later, I was looking for ideas on how to best structure my own messages, so I was checking out some advice on Hubspot and saw this message was based on a common template. That made the case a hundred times worse: not only was I getting unempathic pressure to engage, the person couldn’t even be bothered to write the message themselves.

This is not how you do email. It’s you that needs to come across in your messages, not anyone else.

The moral of the story is: don’t trust anyone else’s template messages. Be genuine: use your own voice. It’s okay to look at templates for ideas, but don’t let us catch you using them.

Tell me what you think: @turalt, stuart.watt@turalt.com

Dr. Stuart Watt has a PhD in the psychology of social intelligence and develops AI technologies that use psychological insights into organizational processes to improve email practice.

He is CTO of Turalt, a Toronto-based AI company using cognitive and psycholinguistic models to solve the negative impact of miscommunication in business.

Image © ginosphotos at 123RF Stock Photo, used with permission.

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