Suddenly, huge numbers of employees were working from home and everybody woke up to the inefficiency and curse of the round-robin, reply-all, out-of-sync conversation by email.
We’ve all been stuck in those never-ending email chains which you have no interest in, or contribution toward, and yet you simply have no control to escape the previous recipients CCing you on every reply anyway. Your inbox is showing 10,000 unread and you’ve lost the will to even try to get grip on it.
Email never really worked that well for group conversations and finally many businesses have realised the power, speed and clarity of business-grade instant messaging tools instead. Conversations can happen in real time, with many people, at whatever pace is natural for the group.
Nonetheless, email still exists, and is slowly reverting to its rightful place as a means of communicating directly with business associates outside of your organisation. Literally, the electronic equivalent of a letter. E-mail. It’s what it was always intended for.
Having finally squeezed the email genie back in the lamp, we thought the start of 2021 would be a good time to look again at email. We’re going to examine its role and techniques on how to write a good one. Ultimately we want to help you from making the same Email mistakes which we’ve seen creeping recently.
At Purple, our team produce many tens of thousands of words of written communication every week. It’s vital to us that communicating with our suppliers, providing written instructions to our clients or documenting our customers’ IT systems is done clearly and concisely, to avoid confusion, improve efficiency and simply to make us look professional.
At the same time, we have to interpret upwards of 500 written support requests per month from our customers. These are of varying degrees of quality and background knowledge or experience. This means we really know what makes a good email, and how important that can be in achieving your goals quickly and efficiently.
We all have to remember that email is often the first impression given to a prospective client, employer or supplier, so it pays to get it right. Communication is always king. Your language and style represent your personality on the screen. So, several million words into our journey as a business, here are 3 ways we think you can make your email voice the best it can be. And some trends we’ve seen lately which are best avoided.
Hi, can you rearrange my meeting to 3pm because I have a dentist appointment thanks see you next Tuesday.
We can’t believe people actually do this. Time and again we see emails where the entire content of what the person wants to convey to you is contained in the subject line of the email, as a single sentence, with nothing except maybe a pre-filled signature sign-off in the body of the message.
This says to the recipient: “I want you to do something for me, but I can’t be bothered to pay you the courtesy of asking politely or give any details, because I am simply too busy to make one extra click into the body section and therefore I am far more important than you”.
Please, stop doing this. It’s not a good look and a big email mistake clanger. It takes literally 1 click to actually write the message in the main body of the email. And regardless how much we don’t really care about the “how are you” lines, can’t we at least address the recipient by their name with a “Hi Joe, …”? It might take an extra 5 seconds but hey, you might find the recipient actually wants to help you out with your request. Common courtesy.
Hi, can you give me a call? Thanks.
Hmm. Like everyone else in the world, I have at least 27 things on my to do list right now. I probably know the sender here. We might work closely. The sender might be my boss, or I might supervise them. No matter the situation, I have no idea how urgent this request is. So how can I prioritise it?
We all lead busy lives and have to respect our mutual commitments. Certainly, some issues need to take priority over others. Maybe I’m at work, so it’s reasonable that if my boss needs something doing of equal importance to my own, I’ll prioritise my boss first. But without any information here, I am probably going to err on the side of caution (if I am a diligent worker) and make that call right away.
But I will also, probably, be worried about making the call. It sounds really ominous. Am I getting fired? Did I do something wrong? Is there bad news coming?
So now I feel under extreme time pressure, I am frustrated because I have just been distracted from the rest of my to-do list, and I am worried…all from a single one-line email.
Next time, why not give some details and an idea of urgency. It doesn’t take much:
“Hi Joe – can you give me a call in the next couple of [ hours / days / weeks ]? We need to come up with a plan for the Acme Limited contract before the end of the month because the numbers don’t quite add up. I’m sure we can work it out together. Thanks!”
Now, you’re going to have your call in a suitable timeframe, with no worries or distraction, and the person calling is probably even going to be ready-prepared for the questions you need answering. Everybody wins. It took two sentences and perhaps 30 seconds of extra typing to save you minutes or hours in lost productivity.
Hi everyone, I’d like to get the marketing team together for a meeting. When can everyone do? Thanks!
Uh oh – brace yourself for 100 emails back and forth, trying to agree a date. Whether you are meeting 3 people or 30, everybody knows the complexity of booking meetings at a time to suit everyone.
There are several solutions to this but in its most basic form, a small meeting with a handful of people, we find that most people are actually flexible on the majority of their commitments. If we need to book a time with a customer for some helpdesk troubleshooting for example, our policy is to propose a time first, and allow the customer to rearrange if necessary. The customer can then evaluate the importance of our work, versus the importance of any existing booking they might have, and can often re-arrange existing commitments slightly to fit both in. Or, they can ask us for another date if the one we propose is a total non-starter. But in our experience, there’s a better than 50/50 chance that our proposed date and time will be accepted.
Imagine the opposite situation, where we start by asking for a time which is convenient. A blank canvas. We have to then wait for the customer to reply. They might say “now” which is obviously inconvenient. Or maybe the time proposed in the future does not work for us, in which case we’ve already created a 3-step email chain with zero progress.
As such, we believe that a person proposing a meeting or a call should always propose a time and date, at the same time. Also be sure to indicate the planned duration of the call or meeting. You will find bookings are much easier this way.
Obviously with larger meetings it’s less straightforward than just simply offering a time. However we still believe limiting the options is the key to this. Consider online tools such as Google Surveys to propose a selection of meeting dates and poll for the best one. If you’re a Microsoft 365 user, the Bookings extension allows you to share your calendar availability securely and privately with anyone. It allows them to independently book a call or meeting with you.
Better still, if you’re on Microsoft Exchange (part of Microsoft 365) why not use the availability checker? If everybody is using their calendar correctly, you should be able to independently check availability for all meeting attendees and propose a time you know is going to work for everyone.
We hope this informations will help improve your approach to email.
Let’s see if we can all avoid these email mistakes in 2021.
Who knows, some of us might even reach inbox zero zen status!
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