A Lesson in email Etiquette

By: Judy Gleeson

Etiquette's just a fancy French word for good manners. So what do manners have to do with email? Email is just a way of delivering written words across the World Wide Web. As you "can't not communicate" everything you do communicates a message. Email is no exception. Unfortunately the message is often communicated poorly.

What are the ingredients of a good email? Let's look at the reverse first. You've probably received an email that was afflicted by some of these problems:

&bull Too long (for example when the whole string is still attached)
&bull Too brief
&bull Too informal (for example flashy & trashy signature blocks, use of slang)
&bull Too abrupt (tone is critical in emails)
&bull Too many recipients (uncertain who should take what action and by when)
&bull CC used for political point scoring, tail covering
&bull FYI (for your information) copies sent to "everyone"
&bull Grammar and spelling mistakes
&bull Poor punctuation (emails are often erratically punctuated)
&bull Abbreviations and use of text message language

These are examples of poor writing skills and bad manners. The aim of communication is to communicate. This means that the recipient must understand the message they receive. The associated "noise" of tone, jargon, brevity, lack of clarity etc makes it challenging when communicating without instantaneous feedback. Face to face I can tell that someone doesn't understand an instruction I give them or a word I use - they frown, furrow their brow, even ask a clarifying question. One of the problematic aspects of email is that it is an asynchronous form of communication.

Before you do anything else, take a pause from reading this article and go to your Sent items folder and print out the 5 most recent emails you sent (work related ones). Before looking at the language, grammar, tone, layout etc, we need to gather some information about these emails:

1. Write a description of your relationship with the recipient. (eg client, met many times over past 3 years)
2. Write on the printout the purpose of this email.
3. Also consider whether there was a response you wanted. If so, what exactly was it?

The next step is to review the emails using those 3 points as a guideline. If possible, have a colleague review the emails for you. You could swap your 5 with their 5 and provide feedback to each other.

Maybe you can think of lots of reasons why it doesn't really matter that those emails have a few typos in them, or that the tone's not appropriate. Justifying our position or making excuses is a natural human trait, especially when we're caught out underperforming!

In call centres the team leaders double jack to listen to their staff's call and check the quality of interactions with clients. Often they record these and use them in one to one coaching. If you are a team leader, printing and reviewing 5 emails from each of your team can be painfully enlightening. I recommend you do it today. And act on your findings. Act today.

Overlooking the quality of email interactions with clients can be highly detrimental to corporate image. And your image is expensive to build and maintain. I have seen some woeful examples of emails sent to clients by business who though they managed their image well. It's time to take a look out the back door - is your corporate image being eroded via email?

What about your frontline staff?

As people in customer facing roles communicate with their organisation's prospects and clients almost continuously, it's obviously important that the quality of their communication is high. I think it's also important that the quality of emails sent is audited frequently so that poor performance can be rectified before it has too detrimental an effect on the organisation's image.

As a junior sales person, my Sales Manager, Chris, would accompany me on appointments to visit clients. During these sessions he would vary his role, sometimes taking the lead, sometimes letting me take the lead. Then as we drove to the next appointment Chris would debrief me and offer some pointers. We would do a whole day of appointments together every few weeks until he was convinced that my quality was at the standard he expected of his team. He then continued this approach; he spent ? a day with each sales person coaching them and reviewing their performance every 3 months. Chris' approach worked well. He was positive. He assumed we could improve when given some guidance.

So many years later, I don't remember whether Chris had a checklist to assess me against. But I am certain that he had a clear understanding of the ingredients of a good sales appointment.

There's no "one size fits all" approach to solving the email issues. So have a look at www.pragmatix.com.au and contact us to arrange a no obligation discussion. We'll listen to your problems and work with you to implement solutions.

World Wide Web
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on World Wide Web
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles