If you have a question or complaint use these tips to make sure your e-mail to customer service gets answered.

By Real Simple
Updated July 24, 2012
Paul Whicheloe

A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.

As customer service becomes progressively automated and outsourced, do customers still get served the way they used to? “No,” says STELLAService, a company that scours for businesses that provide the best customer experiences online.

In a recent study, STELLAService sent 1,125 customer service e-mails over the course of a month to the 25 largest online retailers. The e-mails ranged in subject matter, but all posed questions to the retailers regarding their products or bill pay. And only half of the questions were answered sufficiently.

Of the 1,125 customer-service e-mails, 54 percent of the e-mails were answered with enough detail to satisfy a customer’s concerns. In determining which responses were “sufficient,” STELLAService factored in response specificity and speed of reply.

While this stat may seem low given the facility of e-mail exchange, not all online retailers posted such poor results. In fact, LLBean.com, Gap.com and Zappos.com, three of America’s biggest clothing vendors, were astoundingly proficient in their customer-service answers.

Customer-service representatives at LLBean.com replied to 88.9 percent of all e-mails sufficiently, and replied to every e-mail sent to them in under 24 hours. Similarly, Gap.com replied to 84 percent of e-mails sufficiently, and Zappos.com replied to 75 percent of e-mails sufficiently.

All is certainly not lost, then, especially when we consider the fact that online retailers haven’t regressed to automated customer service replies. STELLAService’s Jordy Leiser explains: “While it’s a potential cost-saver for retailers, a less than adequate reply puts at risk the lifetime value of a customer.”

There are ways to craft your customer service e-mails to guarantee a helpful response. Leiser has a few suggestions:

Give the company your phone number. This one is counterintuitive, to be sure. But by giving your phone number to the company in your e-mail, a customer service representative can call you with a more detailed response than they can type in an e-mail.

Indicate your main concern in the e-mail’s subject line. Use clear, direct language in the e-mail’s subject line to call your reader’s attention to your main concern. If a company isn’t sure why you’re writing in, they’ll be less inclined to address your complaint.

Use your confirmation e-mail to your advantage. If you’ve received a confirmation e-mail for a product and now have a complaint about that product, don’t forget to forward your confirmation e-mail along with your complaint. This way, a customer service representative will have easy access to all of your information.

And of course, nothing beats cool-tempered words and a “thank you.”