There are few travel consultants who do not make heavy use of email to stay in touch with their clients. Marketing collateral is delivered by email. Presentations, itineraries and thank you notes all are commonly emailed correspondence moving between agent and client. If one of our objectives is to enhance the professionalism of our travel practice, we will want to pay attention to such an important tool as email. Let’s look at a few aspects of your email correspondence.
It is easy to dash off an email. Unfortunately, the very ease with which email can be composed and sent also can tend to make us too casual about its appearance. How often on receiving poorly conceived email do you shake your head at the misspellings, the poor grammar, all CAPS or other easily corrected mistakes of email etiquette? The following rules are meant to assist you in dressing up the appearance of your email correspondence and making the best possible impression on your clients and business associates. If you follow these rules, your email will stand out in the crowd for its professionalism.
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These general rules apply to professional and also personal emails. The closer your relationship, the more forgiving the recipient may be, but these best practices are good to know and follow in either case.
Email Content and Etiquette
- Summarize: Write ALL of the most important points, or a short overview of the entire message, in the very first paragraph; this is a courtesy to the reader who can choose to skim the note, return to it later, or respond immediately… this is especially important if you have more than one topic/request – set expectations so the reader does not miss it (e.g., “Hi Mary! I have two quick requests for you:…”).
- Call to action: Be clear about what you want and what you are asking for – don’t shroud a request with casual talk… list what you want, and then end the note with pleasantries.
- Capitalization: Use sentence case only – not all capital letters, not all lowercase letters.
- Compose: Spend time with your email. Don’t dash off a response when thought needs to be given to the matter at hand. One advantage to the handwritten letter is the time necessary for composition provided a buffer on haste and emotion. Compose your email in the same manner and then let is sit for a while before rereading and proofing it.
- Edit: This applies to longer emails… It’s well known that most people only pay attention to half of what they read, cannot absorb more than seven points in a row, and lose track of multiple instructions or requests. To support your email communication, consider writing in the format of a meeting agenda with main points, some elaboration, and then an invitation to talk on the phone to discuss in detail. The email serves as a back-up in case you don’t get to talk, and it’s also a great guide to make sure the phone conversation is efficient and all points are covered.
- Spelling & Grammar: If this is not part of your email program, then copy and paste the message into a word processor program that can reveal any errors… always do this.
- Reply: If you receive an email – reply to it promptly or send a quick response that says when you will reply with more information, and then reply by that time so the other person is not left wondering if you received the message or if you forgot about it; if possible, always reply within a few hours.
- Send: Not just yet! If you are writing a particularly detailed or important email, you may want to write the body of the email and when you are completely finished, enter the recipients… this helps in the event that you accidentally hit “send”. Also think twice before you send each email – edit it, shorten it, and make sure you really want to send it… if in doubt – wait several hours and read it again to be sure.
- Received: It is appropriate to request a confirmation of receipt ‘Let me know you received this email’. With spam filters, email has become notoriously unreliable as a delivery vehicle. If your correspondence is important, you want to make sure it has been received. However, use the “Read Receipt” function very sparingly if at all. Most people do not like the intrusion of the automated receipt functions of some email programs.
- TO: If you are making a request of someone, make sure their name is in the “to:” field – do NOT cc: them, because they may not read your entire message.
- CC: Use this field only if you need to include someone as an “fyi”, as part of your routine documentation, or to make sure they have an opportunity to see your message – don’t expect replies from anyone you cc: – if you need a response, they should be in the “to:” field.
- Reply-To-All: If someone sent you a message and copied another, be sure to “reply to all” – however, if YOU originated the message and no longer need to include the other(s), you may choose to drop their names and continue the conversation one-on-one, which is usually preferable – don’t send email unless it’s necessary.
- Salutation: Address the recipient(s) directly and formally (Mr./Ms.) until they have sent you a note using their first name only; after this, you may write “Hello Amy,” or “Hi Daniel,”.
- Signature: Always, always sign your name or have your email program insert a signature with your name in it. Full signatures with contact information should be included in any first contact – the longer signatures can be dropped after that, because they can take up space. If you do not routinely include your full contact information in your signature, then make a point to send an initial note with “Contact information” in the subject line so the reader can save the message and easily find it when they need to locate your phone number.
- High priority! Only mark this if you need a response immediately. If your issue is this important, you should also follow up with a phone call and instructions in case you miss them on the phone. Develop your skill at communicating contingency planning so you can avoid phone-tag and waiting by your computer.
Exercise – Look at the last 10 – 20 emails you sent. Were they professionally dressed? If so, congratulations! If they were not, adopt a more formal attitude to your emailed notes and correspondence. Your clients and business associates will take notice and you will be well on your way to enhancing the professionalism of your practice.