Tone of voice: how far can you go with customer support responses?

Linsey • 5 minute read • 30/11/2020
Online customer service
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We complain and we question things on social media, messaging and review sites. So, what kind of tone of voice are you using with your (potential) customers? And what are the limits regarding what your customer service team should respond to? In this blog, we’ll explain some of the factors that help determine which tone of voice you should use.

A bit over the line...

A customer service representative from Westrock, a company committed to sustainable packaging, jumps in and effectively responds to a tweet from Domino’s Pizza. Is this kind of tone justified in this situation? It’s a good example within online customer service of what can be considered going over the line or not. Some people might think it’s funny, but an answer like this can also hit people the wrong way.

An organisation like McDonald’s has to deal with complaints on a regular basis. Why wasn’t the burger done? When will the McRib finally return? A McDonald’s customer service employee got a bit fed up and asked why no one ever asks how the service agents are actually doing.

Messages from organisations are under a sort of magnifying glass. Inevitably, organisations have to think about the consequences of their messages. After all, you don’t want customers to knock on the competitor’s door because of a sarcastic or unhelpful response to a question or complaint.

To respond or not to respond? That is the question.

When a larger team is working within the customer service department, it’s especially important to draw up a policy for how employees address (potential) customers. But it’s also important to demarcate the area in which you use your customer service team to interact with your target group. Do you only respond to messages that are directly addressed to you with a mention? Or do you choose to monitor more than just your own name and also respond proactively to messages related to your products or services?

Proactive vs. reactive

The choice to respond proactively to messages regarding your organisation has a direct influence on the field in which the customer service department is active, and ultimately also on the way you deal with both direct and indirect messages regarding your organisation.

Remember: the moment a (potential) customer posts a message about your brand without a mention, you are not automatically considered an invited guest to the conversation. So handle this with care and assess carefully whether the situation allows for it. Proactive webcare can also have a nice ‘surprise’ effect, if done properly.

Using emoticons to enhance a message

The use of emoticons in messages can give extra meaning to a message. For example, you can make a joke and close it with a wink, but make sure that emoticons don’t take over. Using too many emoticons can backfire. The recipient may interpret too many emoticons as spurious and unreliable. Assess each situation to determine whether the use of emoticons is appropriate or not. In an informal conversation, emoticons fit better than in a formal conversation. Also assess who you are talking to and whether this person also uses emoticons in their messages to you. If this is the case, it might even come across as being somewhat ‘distant’ if you don’t use emoticons.

Humor: The fine line between being thought of as funny, or just plain annoying

Humor is a very personal thing. The dividing line between funny and annoying is paper thin. So online customer service, once again, is under a ‘magnifying glass’, and dealing with humor in communications can therefore be a challenge for many organisations.

The purpose of online customer service should not be to be considered funny, but more importantly, to be helpful when it comes to the customer and his or her problem, complaint or question. Never respond to a complaint with humor. Reward praise and compliments and only make jokes in a positive setting.

Be authentic and consistent

It doesn’t matter what choices you make as an organisation, but make sure that they fit within the image that people have of your organisation and that you are consistent in using a certain tone of voice. This also applies to other communications, such as the website, campaigns and promotional materials.

A good example of this is the Dutch consumer electronics company Coolblue, which communicates in an informal and humorous way via all their channels, even on the packaging of their packages. The package-fun that Coolblue fans experience with the packages that come from Coolblue also receives a lot of online attention. For example, the package says: Please note, this package is very attractive to cats. Which results in a lot of cute cat pictures!


The customer service employees are encouraged to go the extra mile, to give their customers a smile. They are also given time to send five handwritten cards per day to customers they have had contact with that day. This personal approach is generally very much appreciated by their customers.

Want to know more about the possibilities of online customer service?

Would you like to know more about the possibilities of online customer service for your organisation or would you like us to provide you with a tone of voice training? Request a free demo or contact us via or +31 (0)85 210 50 60.

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Linsey Jepma
As Content & PR Coordinator, I am involved in the wonderful world of webcare, chatbots, reputation management and data insights on a daily basis. Writing really is my thing and I have an inexplicable passion for neuromarketing and behaviour. Do you want to exchange thoughts? Connect with me at LinkedIn.

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