Email has changed the way we communicate but one of today’s biggest and most often overlooked problems with email is poor email etiquette and writing skills. Many organisations and office managers not paying enough attention to this detail and the reputation of the whole organisation can suffer. How you and your team present yourselves when communicating by e-mail says a lot about the quality of service you’re providing and because e-mail is a shareable form of communication – mistakes can go viral.
One of the first obstacles to good digital communication is the sheer volume of messages. We need to take time to communicate well in a medium where messages can be replied to and sent in seconds. Australian research has revealed that the average number of business-related emails sent and received will be at least 140 each day by 2018. The ‘Email Statistics Report’ says that 43 emails will be sent each day at an average of five an hour or one about every 10 minutes. And yet, many professionals still don’t know how to use email appropriately or they lack an understanding of email etiquette.
Because people send and receive so many messages a day, many end up making embarrassing mistakes that could be detrimental in a professional interaction. For example, you can easily miss a spelling error while typing out an email on your smartphone or you may come off as too casual or unprofessional in tone or content. Have you ever noticed that often emails can sound ‘shouty’ when you’re reading them? Without a few simple steps the tone of your email can be easily misinterpreted. If you don’t respond appropriately or in a timely manner, you may be seen as unprofessional.
As the use of email has developed rapidly and is now used by practically everyone, users, both for business and personal reasons, do not always know how to behave as senders and readers. By making sure your staff is aware of these steps you can avoid some of the communication pitfalls.
Email recipients should respond to emails in a reasonable timeframe. If you are unable to respond within 24 hours, you should send a holding email to let the sender know when you will be able to provide a full answer. If you’re in a larger organisation, make sure that this email provides a reference number or tracking code for ease of follow-up. Requests can easily be lost in a mountain of emails. To make sure you respond – set a reminder on your inbox to reply within the promised timeframe. This can be automatically set for all incoming emails. Obviously if it is an email from a customer, it is in your interest to impress them with your rapid response and demonstrate your competitive edge.
Follow up or chasing responses:
We have all been frustrated by those ‘Did you get my email?’ telephone callers or colleagues in the office that break your train of thought, usually as we have just started reading the same email or are trying to finish off something we consider to be more important. When sending an email we need to remember that our priorities are not always the same as our readers’ and we need to be sensitive to their schedules and workloads. Of course, there may be times when you just need a quick yes or no response but in this case why not just call or speak to the other person in the first place?
If you really need an urgent response, an apologetic ‘I know you’re really busy but…’ will help but you should generally give your reader at least a couple of hours if not the whole 24 hours to respond to your email. At that point, it is always worth following up. Apart from anything else, emails do occasionally get lost in the ether or stuck in spam filters. Your recipient may not have been at their desk and might need to ask another team member to respond to you or may not have realised the urgency of your request. But, perhaps before you chase, consider how urgent your email really was. You may want to tick the task off your list and move on, but if you don’t need the information urgently then allow your reader more time to respond.
Here is some quick email writing rules that should help you communicate better and improve customer/stakeholder relations:
Be clear and concise:
- Before you start, decide what you want to say and be very clear:
- What is the point of this email?
- Who is it going to and what must I say above all else?
- Make sure you suggest your preferred outcome of the communication.
Be polite and watch your tone:
- Just because you need to be clear does not mean you should forget your manners. A polite “Hi” and “Best wishes/All the best”, etc. at the beginning and end of the email can make a world of difference to how your email is received and how you are perceived.
- To avoid accidentally leaving off pleasantries, ensure they are included in your email signature panel and the font of your email text.
- However, don’t be sloppy in an attempt to be friendly. Play it safe – a balance between formal and friendly is ideal for the first contact.
- Writing in a conversational manner can come across as too casual, while a formal approach can seem stern or impersonal. Write like you are addressing a close business contact for later communications.
Pick up the phone!
- It’s far easier, gets you the answer you need more quickly and helps enormously to build goodwill and rapport with the person on the other end. Try it – it works!
- Avoid sending an email for discussions, which are better done face to face.
- Delicate messages are not appropriate to be discussed via email. If there are issues between you and the recipient, it is better to discuss it personally, face to face rather than exchanging bitter conversations via email.
- You may need to follow up with a polite email thanking them for their time but do try to avoid bombarding people with unnecessary communications.
Watch your grammar, spelling and punctuation:
- Spelling, grammar and punctuation should be one of your top concerns in writing business emails. Remember, how you write reflects your total professionalism and personality. If you do not take these things into consideration, it may appear that you are too lazy to communicate with them and thus will give them the perception that you are not going to be a good person to deal business with.
- Always double check your email before sending and even better, set your inbox to auto-check spelling and grammar before sending. This also helps you re-evaluate the email tone or message before it is delivered.
Think twice before hitting ‘reply all.’
- No one wants to read emails from 20 people that have nothing to do with them. Ignoring the emails can be difficult, with many people getting notifications of new messages on their smartphones or distracting pop-up messages on their computer screens. Refrain from hitting ‘reply all’ unless you really think everyone on the list needs to receive the email.
Delivery requests and sending receipts:
- There aren’t many people who appreciate these, so give them a miss. It’s rather rude to demand acknowledgement through digital surveillance.
Send smaller files, compress them:
- It is more preferable to send compressed files than sending large attachments. That makes it easier for the recipient to download the file easily.
- Even better, provide a file transfer link from servers such as Dropbox to allow people to download the file if they wish, rather than being forced to download large files via their email.
- With more and more people using smartphones to check email this can really irritate users when their data plan has been eaten away by your emails.
GET SOME TRAINING:
- Ensure your staff has appropriate communication training. Professional development increases productivity and employee morale. Reputation Australia provides many different communication training courses in-person and online. Give us a call – or send us an email (pardon the pun) to find out more.
Stieve De Lance is a Director at Reputation Australia with a Masters Degree in Communications.