One of the common problems with email is that you never know when someone has actually read your email. This often leads to a flood of unnecessary followup messages. Cutting down on these can help reduce your email traffic and workload immensely.
Do you really need a receipt?
Most email systems allow you to ask for a receipt so you know that your email has been delivered or read. Unless you’re a lawyer and genuinely need a receipt for a legal document, don’t bother.
- Delivery receipts only tell you that the message has arrived. It doesn’t tell you whether it’s been seen, let alone read. For all you know, it’s been classed as junk or instantly deleted.
- Read receipts are usually optional: the recipient can decide whether to send you one. Some email systems don’t support them anyway. If you don’t get a receipt, you have no way to tell whether they’ve actually read it.
In other words, the inbuilt receipt mechanisms are usually pointless, so don’t use them.
Where possible, encourage people to make an actual response instead of relying on receipts.
Give an immediate response
Numerous studies show that customers and clients expect a response to an email within 2-4 working hours. If they haven’t heard back within that time, they assume that either you can’t be bothered, or their email didn’t arrive, and they’ll either resend their message or start complaining.
If you can, aim to respond as soon as possible. Even if you can’t give a full response, then a brief acknowledgement will suffice. “Hi Martha, got your email. I’m busy today and tomorrow but will get back to you by the end of the week.”
Auto-responders can be very effective if they’re well set up. Let people know you’re on vacation or out of the office, or if you’re a busy team, simply inform them that their email has been received and when they can expect a response.
It helps if you let business clients know what your regular hours are and set expectations. If you work 7am to 3pm, then make sure they know you won’t respond to a late afternoon email until early next morning. And make sure everyone knows what time zone you’re in – that other guy may not be slow to respond to your urgent message, he’s just 3 hours behind you and doesn’t start work till noon his time.
Letting someone know that you’re received their email isn’t just polite. It’ll stop them bugging you and reduce the pressure on you.
Follow up by phone
If you haven’t got a response after the second email, then it’s probably not worth continuing to use emails to try and get hold of that person. There could be any number of reasons why they’re not responding – they’re not necessarily ignoring you. You may have the wrong email address (even if you’re replying to them, that’s no guarantee they used a valid address). You may be using an email address they rarely check. If it’s a business contact, they may have left the company. They may be on vacation. Your emails may be falling foul of a spam filter. And, let’s be honest, there are some people who simply hate dealing with email.
By sending endless follow-up emails, you may simply be wasting your time sending messages that will never be read, or just adding to someone’s increasingly impossible inbox. Meanwhile, you’re getting stressed and angry that you’re being ignored. It’s often far more effective to try another way to get hold of them.
If you have a phone number, call instead. You can usually resolve any problems right away.
Next time, we’ll look at how to make your replies more efficient.