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Writing To Customers and Members

Barbara Hurst, BOL Guru
Guru BIOS


We encourage our readers to write comment letters on changes to regulations, and even referred to sites where help could be obtained on how to write those letters.

Customer service, platform, operations and administration people in our financial institutions have to write letters every day. Whether you are writing about a new account, trying to sell a bank product, follow through on a claim, or straighten out some messed up transactions, you'll want to sound as professional as possible. Those letters you write on behalf of your bank or credit union are a reflection not only of the individual who has signed the letter, but also of the organization itself. The correct, polite, informative letter speaks well for the institution and the employee who sends it.

Make it Clear
Unfortunately, it's easy to get side-tracked when writing letters. It's important to keep your points short and clear. Try to avoid vague words and long rambling sentences. Use short words when possible. If you naturally use long words to express yourself, try substituting short words that mean the same thing.

Unless what you are writing about is terribly complicated and requires long explanations, say what you have to say in as few words as possible. Most people don't have time to read long letters. That kind of letter puts people off because they're hard to read. So make it short - make it clear.

Know what you want to accomplish with your letter, and be sure that you reached that goal by either reading it again, or let someone else proof it for you, when you're finished. We usually write business letters to:

  1. make a request;
  2. confirm or clarify details;
  3. decline a request;
  4. express appreciation;
  5. create a paper trail; or
  6. inform depositors of facts.

Sometimes the best way to structure your letter is to draft a copy, getting your thoughts in order, and then finalize your letter.

"Speak" directly to your reader. Imagine yourself talking to him or her and write the same way you would talk. Use words like "you," "we," "us," and "our" to make your letter more personal.

The Basics
The basics of good business letter writing are easy to learn. By using standard phrases, you can give a professional tone to your letters. These phrases are used as a kind of introduction to the content of the letter.

Greeting
Dear Security Director - if you've no clue of a name or title
Dear Sir or Madam - if you don't know who you are writing to. (You hardly ever see "To whom it may concern" any more!)
Dear Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms - use if you know who you are writing to. (VERY IMPORTANT - use Ms for women unless you know for sure which it is, or unless you are asked to use Mrs. or Miss)
Dear Frank - (for a customer or member known well to you personally, or to a close business contact or friend)

Reference
With reference to your checking account ?
With reference to your telephone inquiry today?.
Thank you for your letter of March 21st

Reason for writing
I am writing to apologize for ...
I am writing to confirm the details of our conversation regarding ...

Requesting
Would it be possible for you to ...
We would appreciate it if you would ...
Please check your statement and let us know ...
Please complete and sign the enclosed affidavit and return to us as soon as possible ...

Agreeing to Requests
We would be pleased to ...
I would be delighted to ...

Giving Bad News
Unfortunately, we are unable to ...
I'm afraid that it will not be possible ...
We regret to inform you ...

Enclosing documents
I am enclosing ...
Please find enclosed ...
Enclosed you will find ...

Closing Remarks
Thank you for your concern. Please contact us again if we can help in any way.
Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding this matter.
If there are any further problems regarding this transaction, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Refer to Future Contact
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
It will be our pleasure to handle ...
Our Customer Service is always ready to ...

The Finish
Yours faithfully, or Very truly yours, - if you don't know the name of the person you're writing to Yours sincerely, or Sincerely yours, or just Sincerely, - if you know the name of the person you're writing to
Best wishes, or Best regards, or Warm regards - if the person is a personally known customer, member, business contact, or friend.

Using the above phrases and prompts may help you get through the letter writing a little easier and more professionally.

Make it Right
Be carful with yur speling - it ain't gud to leaf that impreshun
Letters filled with errors are distracting. Readers get so distracted by misspelled words and poor grammar that they miss the point. If you send a letter that's filled with mistakes, your real message is that you are sloppy and careless. Your goal is to eliminate all spelling, grammatical and formatting errors from your letters. We often don't notice our own errors. That's why we recommend having at least one other person proof-read your letters.

We don't like to think that our writing skills need improving. But unless you are a professional writer or editor, you'll need to spend time improving your writing skills in four areas:

  1. clarity
  2. brevity
  3. interest
  4. accuracy

Letter writing is an art. A well written letter is a pleasure to read. It's also very hard work. But it will make you and your financial institution look good and appear more professional.

Portions of the above were taken from About.com - "Guide to Basic Business Letters" by Kenneth Beare. For more information on letter writing and samples of business letters, go to www.about.com

Fair Isaac Offers ID Theft Protection
Fair Isaac Corporation launched a three-level tier of identity theft protection products it is offering to the nation's consumers.

At the first level is a $1.95 per month standard version product that continuously monitors more than 400 data sources at regular intervals to spot changes to a customer's name, address, phone number, date of birth or social security number. Customers can elect to have a weekly status update of monitoring activity emailed to them. A suspicious change triggers an instant email alert. The standard version also offers ID theft insurance and toll-free help.

At the second level is a deluxe model for $4.95 per month that also offers automatic FICO score and credit report checking. Customers receive one credit score and report quarterly that has a detailed analysis of what is in the report and a tracking chart that shows how transactions can affect credit scores.

A third level premium product will soon be available through certain bank partners and on the myfico.com web site later this year that gives consumers the added strength of Fair Isaac's fraud management protection tool, which automatically detects fraudulent card transactions in real time and instantly alerts cusomers when something is wrong.

Copyright © 2004 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 14, No. 5, 7/04

First published on 07/20/2004

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