I run a very small business and have, as of this morning, 8539 emails in my inbox, and a good many of these are important but an amazing number of the authors of these emails didn’t think that it was important enough to warrant including their contact details in the bottom of their message to me. Why? According to the Radicati Group, who count these things, some 205 billion email messages are sent every day, over 74 trillion per year. As someone who started work before email, not much before, I still remember printing and sending faxes, I find the volume of the fragmented nature of email to be as much a hindrance to productivity as a benefit.
To close a sale, interview a candidate, secure a piece of coverage for a client, the best method is to make and build a relationship. This can only truly be done with a phone call or a meeting. In PR we are in the people to people business; for all the excitement about technology and virtual reality people still need to understand and to trust one another in the service industries. So when I comb through my inbox to prioritize my work day, I like to make a list of people to finish my business with. That means that I want to have a dialogue and reach common agreement, sign and get on with the next steps. If I email people all I am doing is the equivalent of pitching the ball back into their side of the court. We actually want to score a point so that we can move onto the next game. Email simply makes work for the other person, so I get angry when a member of staff responds to my question about a task being complete with a, “Well, I sent them an email.” How about if you send me an email at the end of the month asking where your salary is…that issue is always dealt with by a visit to my office or a call; so why not get all these tasks completed the same way.
One really simple reason is that people don’t tell you how to call them. It’s a pet peeve of mine – auto signatures. It is simple, easy and free to include your contact details in each and every email using all desktop and webmail clients. So many people send an email with ‘sent by my iPhone, forgive the typos’ or similar – don’t waste my time with ill written emails that add to my 8,539 inbox and with no way to get hold of you. It just says that the issue really isn’t that important, but when the boss asks you’ll be able to say, “I sent them an email.” Email is not the work itself; it is the tool to get it done. Getting the job done is about adding value to someone else or their organization. At EASTWEST PR, that is about helping our clients to communicate their messages to their key audience. So a key part of that is to let that other person know how to contact us when they are interested in our client’s news. As such we all use standard email auto signatures, so that all the stakeholders know that we are a unified team, working towards a common goal, and also that we are available via office phone, mobile phone, Twitter, Skype, WeChat, LinkedIn, Facebook, Weibo and of course, email. Each and every response to someone is an opportunity to communicate what your company does, and when one multiplies the number of emails going out every day from an organization, it is amazing that this free direct mail campaign is ignored. Imagine – we have 10 people in our organization sending 500 emails per day on average, that’s 10,000 EDM’s per month, that’s in the region of 130,000 emails per year being sent by one regional PR agency alone. You can then see how 205 billion emails can be sent daily and why it’s so important to use them as part of the communications strategy for a company, e.g. announcing upcoming company anniversaries or new offices, but also to enable people like me to make that call to close the loop on the work.
Now I have all the details in the email and the person is away, and I receive an ‘I’m away from my office, back on XX Date sometime in the future’ then the prospect of getting the work done is pretty minimal. I just may have moved on to another solution by the time that person gets back to their emails – and remember that email is only the tool not the job; and if we earn a salary we need to add value to the organization or risk losing our jobs. So a simple and easy solution is the Auto Respond – again it takes 2 minutes to set up in any email client, but it ensures that people dealing with you as part of the organization know how to continue to do so in your absence. Of the 205 billion emails being sent today, how many are actually accomplishing their task and how many are simply leaving the other person frustrated that there are no proper contact details. This is not an SME issue, I have seen the absence of a corporate standard in email signatures and auto responds in companies of all sizes; and it’s especially bad where staff use mobile devices and don’t add signatures to them – which again is so simple and free. It may seem odd that a Public Relations agency would be writing about email signatures – but PR is not just about media relations, it’s about how your company is perceived by everyone; including employees, clients, shareholders, suppliers and anyone else who may help to get the business to be successful. Reports that people are now seeking to detox from their digital devices is a precursor to the move back to human to human communication – and if your phone number isn’t in that email, chances are you are going to be pretty lonely. Use the tools to get the job done, and give others the information they need to get their job done too.