Jim Mackenzie

March 19, 2021

Behind a Before & After

Earlier this week Jorge Manrubia asked for a spot of help with an email. We wanted to send out an email to HEY users who hit a bug, to tell them about it, and to let them know that we were fixing it up.

Jorge wrote a great draft, and sent it on over. You can see that original email and the final version in Jorge's post.

I'm going to walk through my thought process as I read the draft, and the edits I made:

  • The original started with a succinct description of the bug itself. It was immediately clear to me what the problem was, and when it happened.
  • I loved that Jorge was identifying which contacts the bug affected.
  • There was a good explanation of what we were doing to fix things up.
  • There was a genuine apology for the bug.

When I'm editing, I have a couple of questions in mind. First, how can I make this warmer and friendlier? Let's start by recognizing that our email is an interruption. We can respect the time of our customer, and tell them upfront what the email is about:

We've fixed a bug that affected your HEY account, and we want to tell you about it.

I wanted to make the apology warmer too, so I reworked it and included reflection on the possible impact of the bug:

We're really sorry this happened, and we hope you weren't confused.

The final part of making the email warmer was to make it clear that the reader didn't need to do a thing. This was our bug, we are making it right, and we're stopping it from happening in the future.

Second, I wanted to simplify the language. A cheat code for that is to use the language we use in the UI itself. While we talk about designations and the Trail Box in the code, we don't inside HEY itself. I also knew I wanted to use an active voice - you did this, we didn't do that, here's what that means for you.

I landed on something I was happy with in almost no time. Jorge had described the bug in a clear and precise fashion, so all I needed to do was to relabel some of the steps:

Here's what happened: you said Yes to an email from a new sender in the Screener, and you chose to send their emails to the Feed or the Paper Trail. We got the Yes part right, but failed to move that first email from them to the right place. Instead of showing up in the Feed or the Paper Trail, their email only appeared in searches or in Everything. Every email after the first wound up where you told us to put it, but the bug meant those first emails didn't.

I also removed an assumption. Jorge said, "You probably haven't noticed this problem because the next emails from that sender appeared fine." It's likely true, but generally I like to avoid guessing how people might feel when writing them an email.

Once I had my revised draft, I re-read it, and asked myself the final question. Does this email feel like HEY sent it to only me? Or does it feel like HEY sent it to a bunch of people? I felt we managed to hit the former, so I sent it back to Jorge.

A quick recap of my questions:

  • How can I make this warmer and friendlier?
  • How can I simplify this?
  • Does this feel like an email to one person?

And a quick recap of the techniques I used:

  • Respect the time of the person you are writing to, lead with what the email is about.
  • Use the active voice to describe the bug, using the language used in the UI, not our internal jargon.
  • Acknowledge the impact of the bug, and talk about what you are doing to make it right.
  • Make it clear if the customer needs to do anything or not.
  • Remove assumptions.

I hope they help!

Delighted to respond to he/him or they/them