By Dr. Julie Miller
blessing and the curse of the digital revolution! Between e-mail,
instant and text messaging, cell phones, Blackberries and the
Internet, we are drowning in data overload. Moreover, the constant
interruptions cost the U. S. economy an estimated $558 billion
annually. This staggering number does not account for the cost of
poorly written e-mails that land companies and employees in hot
legal trouble, destroy long-term client relationships, and ruin
reputations—just review Mike Brown’s e-mails (former FEMA chief) as
Hurricane Katrina raged and you will understand. Add to this mix a
lack of civility and common sense and you have an explosive brew.
Writing online is still, as author Patricia O’Conner writes,
"in its Wild West stage . . . with everybody shooting from the hip
and no sheriff in sight."
do? For starters, treat e-mail writing as writing not
as casual conversation. Whether words are written in the sky, sent
by carrier pigeon or via the Web, words must connect with the
reader. Good writing allows this to happen; poor writing does not.
Therefore, establish some law and order by developing an e-mail
protocol, whether you are a multi-national or a single shingle firm.
Simply stated it’s “the way we do business around here” in terms of
communicating via e-mail with co-workers and customers. It is a code
of behavior, a set of standards as to how you will frame your words,
manage your inbox, even extend your brand.
Consider this story: Within a software company’s accounting
department, an employee had received a query by one of its
international clients regarding an invoice. The client had asked how
she was handling the invoice, as the company was anxious to receive
the product. The employee’s response? “handling it.” Note that the
response was in lower case with no greeting or closing. The client’s
response? Not pleasant—the client pulled his account, citing
irreconcilable differences. And the result? Loss of revenue, loss of
client, loss of reputation. Though we cannot account for the human
factor, if a protocol had been in effect, the calamitous outcome
might have been avoided because standards would have been in place
as to how to respond to the client.
is a short list of questions to visit at your next meeting. Your
answers could be the beginning of a company-wide document.
do you greet and close messages? Companies are crafting a series
of key phrases used solely for openings and closings. Remember, you
would never call without greeting someone. Why would you not in your
does your e-mail signature say about your company? It is an
extension of your company’s brand. Professional with no cutesy
sayings, it should contain all contact information. Establish a
standard for font style and size—Verdana and Arial remain the ones
most commonly used. Also, because you have limited real estate,
consider placing your signature block horizontally rather than
is the company policy around blind copies? Some companies only
use them for e-blasts; others state they are strictly verboten.
Discuss why, when and how you will use them. Caution: Some computer
programs allow all those who you do not want to see your e-mail to
view it if the recipient hits “reply all.”
you have a message for the out of office auto-responder and
when do you turn it on? Four hours? One day? A large bank
requires if an employee is immersed in an important project, it must
be turned on if he/she is gone from the office for more than one
hour. Other companies insist they are available 24/7 for their
clients, thus no auto-responder.
often do you check e-mails? Some companies set their programs so
e-mails are only called up hourly, thus reducing down time and
increasing productivity. Others require employees to check their
e-mails a minimum of four times a day.
soon do you return e-mails? Within four hours? 24 hours? Some
companies’ policy state all e-mails need answering within the same
you use emoticons? Buzzing bees, dancing bears, smiley faces.
Suggestion: Heartily rule against it.
many e-mails before you pick up the phone? The rule of thumb
seems to be three. If the issues are not resolved, pick up the phone
or walk down the hall.
is your company’s policies about writing business letters,
accessing confidential information, or handling racial or sexual
harassment? Your e-mail policy should be compatible with these
will you insure employees understand your protocol? For example,
who is the contact person when questions arise? How will updates be
handled? Will you schedule trainings?
has become the biggest productivity drain in businesses today.
Getting a handle on this daily data dump by establishing
procedures—etiquette if you will—will make you and your company
stand above the crowd. And, possibly bring law and order to the
untamed world of Internet communication. What are your “best
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