What Happened to Business Email Etiquette?

Have you noticed lately that more and more people are not replying to your emails? I have. I don’t think it’s personal. I’m not talking about the email people ignore that is obviously spam. But an email to someone you know. It could be a business colleague or client, or a prospect that you have been in correspondence with.

I tend to be pretty prompt when answering email. I almost always reply the same day. There would have to be a good reason I didn’t — and right now I can’t think of one, unless I was sick and not at my computer. There are the obvious reasons why people don’t respond, I guess: too busy, too many messages clogging my email box, I’ll stow it in a mail folder for emails I’ll respond to later (but don’t), I forgot, etc. But these have always been possible reasons.

So why are fewer people responding to email? I decided to poll a few friends about their email experiences.

Here is a summary of what I learned

As you might expect everyone mentioned the sheer volume of emails. But several offered some interesting solutions/comments and I’ve highlighted them.

“Volume is a problem. I have received an email, wanted to think about it for whatever reason, and then failed to respond. In fact, this just happened to me last week. To improve the likelihood of a response I try to put my question in the subject line or at least a reference that will prompt the person to read my email. For example, I regularly send emails to people who don’t know me to schedule interviews for a newsletter. My subject line is “Interview for OIC Advisor Quarterly” knowing the recipient will recognize OIC and why they are receiving the email. (OIC is the Options Industry Council, my client.) Alternatively, if it is someone who knows me I write “Note from (her name)” and I usually get a response.

“I think there is an increasing situation where business people in general do not follow interpersonal etiquette. I am blown away when I continue to hear that people who have interviewed at a company several times never hear any response. I also know that I am at fault. I am curious about so many topics that I am flooded with emails from various websites. So curiosity causes some of the overwhelm. When an email is hidden in a list of 150 per day — it can be lost/forgotten. Interestingly, I started writing a response (to you) several days ago. Saved it as draft. And then had to scroll down hundreds of emails to go back to it today after my trip. Maybe paper letters were easier to spot!”

“I find that my emails that are time/date sensitive and pose a question get a response. When an email does not get a response, I forward the original email with a “Did you get this?” in the subject line and that usually works. If I really need to reach someone, I do it the old fashioned way, I simply call them.”

“Actually I have not noticed a lack of response but I try to use email as little as possible. I still feel that telephone and person to person contact are better. I know that sometimes I respond slowly since I get so many emails that are newsletters, junk, etc., that real emails that require answers get lost in between.”

“For me, one difference is switching from using Outlook to Gmail. Because there are no separate folders — I used to have an @Action folder for things I needed to handle, for example — things get lost in my inbox if I don’t answer them right away. Gmail also sort of telescopes related responses so sometimes I don’t realize that I’ve missed something. Other reasons include: I don’t want to handle this; I forgot; I really have nothing to say/am not sure I need to respond.”

“A simple reply is only common courtesy (not that common).  I find that often people don’t reply because they don’t have an answer, status on a project or they may be waiting for someone else to reply to them before they can get back to you. If anyone has a solution for this — I’m all ears!”

The following reply from a friend seemed remarkably prescient (see Addendum to this blog). “We are getting so many emails these days (they seem to have doubled in the last 6 months due to all increased connections) that people are overwhelmed and forgetting about previous emails. Typically this is the more in the business area – potential clients etc. If the answer is really important I follow up with phone call or letter.

Addendum

As I was putting this blog to bed, my daily email arrived from Seth Godin. He touched on the subject with his blog post “Redoubling to system failure.” In its entirety it reads:

“Every 18 months for the last decade, the world has doubled the data it pushes to you.

Twice as much email, twice as many friend requests, twice as many sites to check, twice as many devices.

When does your mind lose the ability to keep up? Then what happens? Is it already happening?”

So, if the social media guru Seth Godin says we’re being buried with data, including email, then I’ll accept that as an excuse when I don’t hear from you.

Originally posted: http://writespeaksell.com/2010/06/what-happened-to-business-email-etiquette/. Reprinted with permission from: writespeakspell.com

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One Response to What Happened to Business Email Etiquette?

  1. I find that I reply to business e-mail and transactional e-mail quickly The ones that I'm slow to respond to are the ones that take time (catching up with an old friend), or ones that require that I gather information, or require some thought. I set those aside so that they don't interfere with what I'm currently working on, or save the response for when I have more time (never!).

    I find the expected response time interesting. E-mails seem to get a quick responses, but it often takes days to receive a response to a voice message or that they are not returned.

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