Friday, January 13, 2012

Email The Ultimate Miscommunication Tool

When we started Terrapin 13 years, ago e-mail was still in its infancy. If you worked in an office on a computer, you may have had an e-mail account.  If you had a personal email account chances are it was with either AOL or CompuServe. E-mail has come along way since then - now you’re probably checking email on your computer, your tablet or your smart phone and doing so many times a day.  

That got me thinking - it’s amazing how the 30-something and over crowd never really had any formal e-mail training in school or from their employer(s).  The only way we knew we were doing something wrong is when somebody told us:  don’t open an attachment from someone you don’t know, don’t type in ALL CAPS because that’s shouting, etc., etc..  

With that in mind, it’s amazing how e-mail has become the ultimate miscommunication tool.  In corresponding with our clients, vendors, friends and family we often see bad email practice,  so we’ve taken some time to assemble the Top 3 common mistakes people make when using e-mail.  With our help, hopefully you can become the ultimate communicator through e-mail.

1. Who the Heck are You?
Whether you are using desktop software like MS Outlook or an online service like Gmail - each allows you to customize what recipients see in the “from” fields on the email.  The from is frequently the first thing someone look at when your email arrives.  

Not sure what yours says? Simply send yourself an email.  If your from field is set to your email address or just says something like “Sales” or “Accounting” its probably worth updating.  Personally I use my name, a dash and then my company:

David Michalenka - Terrapin Art & Design

This makes it easy for someone to know I’ve sent them an email, what the name of my company is, and because this info is the same every time - it makes my emails easier to find later on.

2. What Could You Possibily Want?
I cannot count how many times I’ve gotten an email with a subject of “Hi”, “Hello”, “Website”... or better yet, nothing at all.  The whole purpose of the email subject is to tell someone what the email is about.  Like most people, I spend the day prioritizing what emails to respond to first - chances are “Hi” won’t get my attention, since it almost seems like a personal email and not a work email.  

As a general rule of thumb here at Terrapin we always put the client’s name, followed by a dash  and then what the email is regarding. For example:

Daniele Foods - Remaining Items We Need From You Before Website Release

When the email arrives in our client’s inbox there is no guessing what it’s concerning.  When other Terrapin team members see the email  they immediately know which client it’s for and again, it’s easier to find search through our old emails to find information later on.

3. Forget the “Reply” Button Exists
That probably got your attention. The fact is you should stop using the “reply” button, and instead get in the habit of clicking the REPLY TO ALL button. Why? This make sure everyone who’s been involved in the conversation (on To, CC or BCC) stays in the conversation.

An email from Terrapin during a website project typically gets sent to 2-3 people at our client plus 2-3 members of our team.  The chain of emails can get quite long as everyone adds their 2 cents - but since new replies get “added” onto the email it’s easy to follow the conversation.

If during that process 1 person hits the Reply (instead of Reply to All)... then a bunch of people “miss” an email and are out of the loop, potentially missing an important piece of imformation that’s being passed along.  What’s worse is that if the person receiving the email doesn’t put everyone back on CC - the entire email chain gets broken, making it impossible for all the correspondence to be in one place.

In Review...
If you take a few moments and start putting these 3 suggestions to use - you will become a more effective communicator through email in 2012.  So remember...

  1. Make sure people know who you are
  2. Make sure they know what the email is about
  3. Make sure to keep everyone in the loop