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How much is poor email etiquette costing your business?

October 3, 2011

With five seconds of opening your email, the recipient has formed an impression of you (and your organisation) and made a judgement about your level of professionalism. What annoys you when you receive an email? Is it the length, poor spelling and grammar, the way the sender greets you and signs off (or lack of it)?

If any of these traits annoy you, what are the implications for your clients (and prospects)? In this digital age where our first communication may be by email rather than phone or a meeting, having good email etiquette (dress code) can be what makes or breaks a relationship. It’s what sets you apart for better or worse than the competition and that can be another business or person

You don’t know how much it costs you until either you ask or someone tells you by which time it might be too late as they have taken their business elsewhere. Sloppy emails can be the tipping point in a business relationship. Even if the other person’s email is unprofessional and slipshod, that does not mean your should be. As a senior executive commented to me ‘what does it say about how we (the contractor) are managing you our supplier’. Your email etiquette is your electronic dress code.

A recent survey we conducted revealed that not surprisingly spelling mistakes and poor grammar are regarded by everyone as either a sloppy or unprofessional. However, what if the email is well structured and grammatically correct (that is to say the sender has put on their best suit) but the greeting or sign offs in tacky and inappropriate? These are like the accessories you choose to go with your outfit (e.g. cuff-links, tie, earrings etc)

Our survey found that 63% feel no greetings is either unprofessional or sloppy. Dear, Hi and the person’s name are regarded as the most professional. For signs offs, smiley icons, ‘Cheers’ and no sign off are out and deemed unacceptable by over 65% or business users. The most favoured is ‘kind regards’ or ‘best wishes’ (67%).

Given our dependence on email as the major communications channel, good email etiquette (electronic dress code) is a critical part of business relationship which needs perfecting and adapting to circumstances as do any other part of the your customer relation protocols. Yet, surprisingly few organisations have an email etiquette handbook.

Think before hitting “send”

Your goal should be right message right first time. The key is to think before hitting send. Ask yourself these three simple questions before hitting send.

1. Is email the right media for my message?

2. What image of myself and my business is being conveyed by this email?

3. Have I provided sufficient information for the recipient to act upon (eg make a decision arrange a meeting etc)?

How to convey a professional image in your emails

Here are five ways you to improve your email etiquette to convey a professional business like image.

  1. Draw in the recipient from the start with a good subject line which describes exactly what your email is about. For example be clear if action is needed by a specific date/time.
  2. Open and close with a hand shake (greeting and sign off) just as you would if talking to them. An email with a greeting and sign off is more likely to engender a favourable response than one with no greeting and which immediately launches of into the subject.
  3. Write your message in clear concise language. Avoid colloquiums, jargon and jokes and as these can very easily be misinterpreted and especially the latter.
  4. Use a professional san serif fonts which will be rendered properly no matter what email system is being used, for example Arial or Calibri. Stick to black or blue and 10/11 pt for size. Don’t add variations for signatures etc.
  5. Think in fives and limit the number of points to five and the length to about fifteen lines. More and you increase the risk of the email being put to one side and only half the questions being answered.

To check the quality of your emails use my ‘Email Etiquette’ Checklist which can be downloaded here.

Good email etiquette costs you nothing. Sloppy emails may cost you business and even a future career.

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email best practice and author of ‘Brilliant Email’. For more information see either www.mesmo.co.uk or www.brilliant-email.com. You can follow her daily tips and hints on Twitter.