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Business Email Etiquette: Reading, Writing, and Responding

Posted on June 9, 2009 by Arianna

As I waited patiently – well for the most part, for a response to an email I sent a supplier a few hours ago I began thinking about the email I had sent, and about the response time I was expecting.  Dealing with suppliers, potential providers, consumers, upper management, industry partners, etc. we need to realize that an email says a lot about a person and the company. There are also rules that need to be followed when communicating as a representative of your company, whether your organization has chosen to publicize them or not.

As I continued to wait for the supplier’s response, I began realizing that I demanded more of those receiving my emails, then what I provided to those who sent me emails. So what is the rule, if any, for how fast or how slow we can or should be responding to emails? Should our first response should be as soon as possible?  Or does it depend on the circumstances?  The reality is that we only have so much time in a day, and some emails are more important than others. We have to keep in mind that the sender knows that their email is in our inbox waiting to be read, if we disregard the email with no follow up of “Let me work on this and I will reply shortly” the sender may assume that we are just ignoring them. This is how I feel when I don’t receive a timely response, but I also realize that there are some people in our organization that literally can’t get to every email they receive in a given day so that’s not a realistic thought either. After looking for a specific time frame on what an appropriate email response time would be, and not finding it, I decided to suggest my own. I believe that 48 hours from the time an email is received is a suitable time frame for best practice.  Keeping someone else held up any longer on a given project and the perception of being dependable and communicative goes straight out the door.  

We have to remember that an email is not just about us and how busy we are; it is also about the sender who is expecting a response to their issue or question. Showing the courtesy of responding with our status will portray efficiency and someone who is dependable with correspondence. Often times a simple “I will get back to you as soon as I can”, response will avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Business partners will not only appreciate our timely responses, but in return will feel a sense of delight when they see our email in their inbox.

So next time we skip over that email that has been in our inbox for over two days, we need to remember the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

In the infancy of eCommerce the environment could be described as, laid back, which helped lead to a miscalculation of the importance of email, and even the use of email as an informal business tool.  There are many reasons why people need to be careful with what they say in an email.

Keeping three basic rules in mind should alleviate email communication faux pas:

Communicate with Clarity
Make sure that the information provided in an email is communicated with clarity. Many times we respond to emails with one-line replies. Not only can we not provide enough information in a one-line reply but we can also come off as rude and demanding. Communicating with clarity can be simple when an email is broken down. For example if there is a question to be answered and the answer has multiple parts number them or utilize bullets.  Also remember, that when replying to an email always try thank the sender for the information they provided in their previous email, it’s just good manners.

If you wouldn’t Say it to their Face…..then DON’T Write It.
Because an email helps avoid face to face confrontation people tend to be daring when emailing. When you are upset in an email, this first thing to remember is to take deep breaths and re-read the email to make sure that you understood it correctly. Speed reading is one of the main pitfalls that lead to miscommunication.

You are your Email
Think of the email you are sending as a description of you. If you are rude in your email, then you probably look like a rude person; but if you are helpful and understanding in your email then that IS probably who YOU are. Politeness in an email shows that you are professional, courteous, tactful, and educated – all attributes that a Business person should encompass.

It seems that the younger generations are getting closer and closer to utilizing email in the same ways they are using texts and instant messages. Please remember that grammar is still an essential part of an email; they are nothing like IM conversations or texts. Emails need introductions, a body, and a conclusion. Though these guidelines may be forgotten one day, let’s try to keep emails as professional as possible. 

  

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