A report by McKinsey & Company estimates employees spend 28% of their working day reading and responding to emails, proving it is a vital part of modern business communications.
How workers compose messages and respond to emails they receive can have a major impact on how a business is perceived by customers and how well colleagues work together as a team.
No organisation wants their communications to appear unprofessional, making it important to establish guidelines for business email etiquette. This guide to email etiquette is a starting point. Giving tips and advice on how to communicate, internally and externally, and improve the quality of business emails.
Being too formal can lead to ambiguity. Be concise and use language that the recipient will appreciate, rather than long-winded terminology.
Be honest, be open
Communication, decision making, and query resolutions are all improved when an email is honest and open. That doesn’t mean being blunt, or abrupt, rather it involves being clear and not hiding information the respondent needs.
Emails are not necessarily private information (regardless of what a disclaimer may say) so be prepared to have anything written in an email shared with other people. Similarly, companies can monitor emails for breaches of company policy, so internal messages should be business focused and not contradict company guidelines.
Set the right tone
Remember an email will reflect on the company brand and public image. Internal emails can be more friendly, but always bear in mind the purpose of the email is business, not social interaction (keep that for coffee breaks and chats across the office).
Don’t be over-friendly when responding to a customer complaint – someone who isn’t happy with a company’s service won’t be placated by a ‘Hope you are well and had a nice weekend’ style opening. Equally, don’t attempt sarcasm, or irony, unless the respondent knows to expect that type of humour and will respond positively.
Beware cc and bcc
How many people really need to read the email being sent? Clogging up someone’s inbox with unnecessary messages only hinders communication and decision making, and makes the recipient less-likely to pay close attention to future emails which may be important.
The subject line should always reflect the content of the email, in a concise way. From the inbox, the subject line is the most prominent piece of text. Emails titled ‘From Fred’ or ‘Re: Re: Re: Re: ’ don’t encourage action from the respondent. Emails titled ‘Account review update’ or ‘Monthly report from Sales’ help the respondent judge the importance of the message, and aid later searching for messages.
Punctuation, grammar and understanding
Spelling errors have been greatly reduced thanks to email application’s in-built spell-checkers. Sadly the same isn’t yet true for punctuation and grammar. When used correctly they greatly increase understanding, when used badly they lead to problems.
Employers should make sure anyone whose role includes emailing customers has a basic understanding of correct grammar and punctuation. Getting things like ‘their, they’re and there’ wrong is an easy mistake, but one that risks the email not being taken seriously.
A long email chain can lose its way, and the meat of the message gets buried several layers down. If you think a round of responses have lost their focus, take the opportunity to recap the key points and get the conversation back on track.
Make the most of the signature. It’s easy to forget to include contact information in the body of an email, so include them in the signature along with links to your website (if appropriate). Don’t rely on images in signatures to convey information. Lots of email clients won’t include pictures within emails as standard, so any information in an image will be lost.
Email apps, including those on mobile platforms, have the option to include a standard signature automatically on sent messages. Make sure everyone in the organisation has set their email app to include the signature.
Using these basic business email etiquette tips is an important step to improving business communications. Writing is a skill and, like all skills, the more practice someone has the better they get. Organisations need to monitor internal and communications regularly and, where standards are not as rigorous as they could be, train up staff and give them the resources they need.