A customer success manager at a fast-growing tech company recently shared that he'd spent almost an hour crafting a comprehensive email message, loaded with details. He then sent it to the executive whose help he urgently needed to resolve a customer issue.
When he finally got a response from the executive, it was simply: TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read).
Can you relate? Chances are you have a lot of emails sitting in your inbox competing for your time and attention. If you’re like most professionals, you have upwards of 200, and in an average day, you can expect to get an additional 120.
Have you read them? Or even opened them? If your boss sends you a message marked “urgent” you’ll likely prioritize that first, but what about the rest?
It’s easy to fall into bad email habits that, over time, take a toll on productivity — yours and that of others in your organization. How can you change bad email habits to get the results you need? Optimize the emails you send, making them quick and easy to read and respond to.
Don’t Get Lost in the Crowd
Does it sometimes feel like all you do is respond to emails all day? You’re not alone. A recent Adobe study on email usage found that people spend a staggering 3 hours during the work day reading and answering emails, and that doesn't even include all the time spent checking email from home and during their commute.
With the ubiquity of smartphones, checking messages on a mobile device has increased exponentially, if only to scan what’s new and potentially important.
Deciding how quickly to open and read, let alone respond to an email, usually depends on three simple things:
- Is the subject line compelling?
- Is the content easy to process, both, verbally and visually?
- Is it crystal clear what is being asked and why it matters?
If the answer is yes to all three questions, your email is going to stand out from the hundreds of emails competing for your recipient's attention, dramatically increasing the odds of getting the response you need.
Bad Habits You Can Change to Get Better Results
The good news is, you can change bad email habits to start getting better results immediately. Here are the 3 most common bad habits to avoid:
1) Unhelpful subject lines
While quickly scanning your email, a message from a colleague titled “Any thoughts?” could just as easily be about the upcoming office holiday party as about an urgent crisis. Perhaps you’d open it out of curiosity, or maybe it can wait.
Vague subject lines don’t help readers determine priority or urgency. Think of them instead as newspaper headlines or click-bait titles. Scanning to find the line, “Need your input to avoid missing customer deadline,” immediately gives specific context and a call to action.
2) No white space and overwhelming non-essential information
Have you ever opened an email and your eyes recoiled at the sight of long blocks of solid text? Now imagine opening that email on a mobile device — the negative experience gets amplified.
Even if your subject line was compelling enough to prompt the recipient to open the message, discovering dense paragraphs can stop them in their tracks. The likely outcome? Your recipient skips your email entirely and saves it for when there’s more time to read it, which means it'll probably be forgotten altogether.
The truth is, people don’t like to hunt for the answer as to how your message impacts them or what you’re asking them to do. So how can you make it easy for them to find that information? Create white space in the body of your email to dramatically increase content legibility.
Judicious use of white space makes it easier for the reader to focus, encouraging them to interact more deeply with the text. Use bullets, bolding, and color to chunk down information and highlight what's essential, making your email more visually appealing and more digestible (i.e., less overwhelming).
Word clutter can be equally distracting. Decide which details are “must-know,” and then relentlessly eliminate all “should-know” and “nice-to-know” information. Too often, when you're knee-deep in the weeds of a project, it’s easy to launch right into the details, weaving a too-long narrative in your email.
Remember TL; DR? Readers will skip over blocks of dense text.
3) Burying the “Ask”
The fast pace of work today is fundamentally at odds with the concentration and focus it takes to process dense email copy and try to find the all-important "ask." If a reader’s first question is “How does this affect me?” the second is definitely, “What do you want me to do about it?”
No doubt you’ve heard the neuroscience news that the average adult attention span is only 8 seconds. That’s one second shorter than a goldfish, as reported in the now-famous study highlighted by Time Magazine. The takeaway? Don't bury the "ask." Lead with your core message to make it crystal clear what is being asked and why it matters.
Your call to action should be straightforward and easy to find. Whether right at the top of the email or at the very end, it should be obvious and stand apart from the other text in your email.
Using all-caps and adding a little color with a word like “ACTION” can make your “ask” stand out and tell your reader exactly what they're expected to do next.
The High Cost of Bad Email Habits
Think about how much work and collaboration happens over email in most organizations. If people on average spend 3 hours a day on messaging, that’s 28% of your work day spent either reading or answering email.
How much are ineffective and inefficient emails costing the bottom line? In a global study on workplace productivity, researchers found that inefficient communications cause companies to lose an average of $15,000 per year per employee. For a typical company in the survey, that amounts to over $50M per year wasted.
Putting It All Together for Success
After a recent Mandel workshop that included how to write and modify outreach emails, a seasoned commercial renewals manager reported an immediate change in her email response times:
“My response time to my first outreach email has gone from no response or a week's wait, to almost immediate. Now I get a response within two or three hours.”
Not only did her client relationships improve because of her concise communications, she was able to start more productive conversations with decision-makers, increasing her renewals as a result.
Mandel graduates tell me that applying the Mandel Personal Communication Framework (SCIPAB®) when writing emails has dramatically improved their response time and productivity. Structuring email content in that specific way makes it easy for the recipient to quickly decipher the “what” and the “why” of your email.
Optimizing your email communication is a simple way to enhance your effectiveness on the job, boost overall organizational productivity, and help advance your career. Make your 2020 New Year’s Resolution now — drop your bad email habits and start your own email revolution. Mandel is ready to help.
Sources (in order of appearance)
Workfront. (2018). 2017-2018 State of enterprise work report. Workfront.com. Retrieved from https://www.workfront.com/resources/2017-2018-state-of-enterprise-work-report-u-s-edition
Radicati, Sara. (2018). Email statistic report, 2014-2018. Radicati.com. Retrieved from http://www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Email-Statistics-Report-2014-2018-Executive-Summary.pdf
Abramovich, Giselle. (September 2019) If you think email is dead, think again. Adobe.com. Retrieved from https://cmo.adobe.com/articles/2019/9/if-you-think-email-is-dead--think-again.html#gs.lanu5v
McSpaddeen, Kevin. (May 2015). You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Time.com. Retrieved from https://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
Plummer, Matt. (January 2019). How to spend way less time on email every day. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-to-spend-way-less-time-on-email-every-day
Taylor, Steven and Leslie Barteaux. (March 2017). Workplace productivity and communications technology report. Webtorials. Retrieved from http://www.webtorials.com/main/resource/papers/Mitel/paper2/2017-Workplace-Productivity-SotM.pdf?l=WT-17-03-23-Mt
Mandel.com. (n.d.) The SCIPAB®Thinking & Messaging Tool. Mandel Communications. Retrieved from https://www.mandel.com/why-mandel/SCI-PAB-how-to-start-a-presentation
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