While it may be true that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression, you have countless opportunities to communicate your brand to existing and potential clients. This week, TRO’s 365 Guide will look at five different points of contact with clients where appearances matter. We will begin with email communications.
It is easy to let the informality of an email control its appearance. Most of us, however, have experienced getting an email from a company or an individual that was nearly incomprehensible, poorly articulated with misspellings and grammatical errors. Let’s look at a few rules that will save you from an embarrassing email experience of your own.
These general rules apply to professional and personal emails, in the event that you do not know the recipient well. The closer your relationship, the more forgiving the recipient may be, but these best practices are good to know and follow in any case.
- 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, which are reserved for good friends only.
- 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.
- 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 (e.g., “I need to know if you can ____ within the next 10 minutes so I can book my flight – I’ll also call you. If I haven’t heard from you by ___, then I’ll go ahead and ___”). Get very good at communicating contingency planning so you can avoid phone-tag and waiting by your computer.
- Your Email Address: If at all possible, every business should have its own web and email addresses – Yahoo, AOL, and others are not appropriate unless you are a part-time professional. Even in that case, if you must use a “free” email account, include your business name in the address if possible, and see if you can pay a few dollars a year for the provider to strip advertising from your notes. We have seen travel agents who use a free account where the email provider inserts ads (with links) for the recipient to book a flight – and not with the agent.
Tomorrow – Phone etiquette