The key to any successful relationship – business or personal – is trust. Clear, transparent and timely communication helps to build this trust. I spend much of my time providing on-the-job training and support to a logistics client. That support is often in the form of helping them write emails to customers and suppliers updating them on the statuses of certain orders and deliveries. My client often needs to let their customers or suppliers ‘know where they stand,’ in the form of email status updates on orders or shipments: ‘We have a new delivery date.’ ‘We have just determined the requested item is out of stock.’ ‘There is a problem with customs clearance.’ ‘The item has been shipped!’ Whatever the message, my client is dedicated to communicating professionally and to keeping their partner’s trust. Just as with any email, you’ll have to decide whether the tone is formal, informal or neutral. But there are a few things to remember when updating people or letting them know the status of an order, a payment, a shipment, etc.
1. Always let people know why you’re writing
This is true for almost all emails. It’s less crucial if you have an ongoing email ‘conversation’ with someone.
- I’m writing to let you know about order number….
- I have some information for you about…
- I wanted to update you about…
- We’re writing regarding….
- We’re contacting you regarding your order number …
The “I” is a personal statement. Using “we” implies you are writing as a company, but are open and friendly. You can use the phrases above in less formal situations, or if you have an existing relationship with the recipient. But if the situation is more formal, then there are better, stronger phrases to use:
- The purpose of this email is to update you on the status of….
- This is to inform you about the delivery of…
- Following is the status of order…
- Please find attached a summary of …
- This is to inform you that the delivery of ______ has been scheduled
Adopting the 3rd person instead of the 1st person almost always makes your emails more formal. Avoid terms like “We hereby inform you” – this feels very legalistic.
2. Give them the news, good or bad, as simply as possible
Good news is easy:
- I am pleased to inform you that….
- I have some good news about your delivery of…
- I have spoken with the forwarder and am happy to say that…
Bad news is tricky. No one wants bad news, so don’t beat about the bush.
- Unfortunately, the shipment has been delayed until…
- Unfortunately, the material you ordered is no longer available.
- I/We regret to inform you that…”
- I am afraid we are not able to…
- Please accept my/our apologies for this misunderstanding/delay/inconvenience.
- We’re deeply sorry that …
- Due to the airline employees’ strike, the order is grounded in Frankfurt.
- It has come to our attention that the deadline that was agreed to cannot be met.
Giving bad news can be very complicated. It’s important that you acknowledge that the bad news is a problem or an inconvenience. Be brief. Be respectful. Be understanding. Explain but be careful that is doesn’t seem like you’re making excuses. Offer some alternative or solution, if possible:
- We apologise for this inconvenience. We hope the strike will be resolved by Friday and that the shipments will return to normal by the following Monday.
- Although we cannot provide the items xyz123 you requested, we can offer the item abc456, which are comparable.
3. Develop trust by making yourself available to them
You’ve probably seen them hundreds of times but they work!
- If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me
- If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
- Please contact me with any questions you might have about this.
- Please let me know how I can assist you with any other questions.
Consistency is key
If you adopt a formal tone at the beginning, try to maintain that throughout the email. Or, if you decide it should be friendly and less formal at the beginning, stay less formal and friendly through the entire email.