An Email Etiquette webinar I recently presented generated great questions. Thought you’d like to see the answers, too.

Question #1: Introductions… What’s best? Is Good morning good? How about good day? What do you think of Hello? Do you capitalize the G and the M in Good Morning?

Good question. Unlike snail mail with its “must use” Dear, email greetings are more flexible. You can use any of the options you listed in the question. You can also start with Hi, if you’d like. A follow-up question is this: Is there a salutation that is most acceptable and agreed upon as the way to professionally open an email message? And the answer: Nyet. But (don’t stop reading yet!) because depending on your relationship with the recipient, and the image you want to project, you can easily pick a best, most acceptable greeting. Determine: Is the message you’re writing formal or informal? Do you know the person? Do they tend to be more or less formal? Is your company conservative? Do you want to project an established image? Yes to those questions? The more traditional you are, the more comfortable you’ll be with an opening such as Dear or Good morning* Bill, or Good day Michael. (Notice that the second word isn’t capitalized.)

*What happens if you don’t know when they’ll read it and aren’t sure if you should use Good morning or Good afternoon? Well, if it’s 11:00am in Scottsdale, I know it’s afternoon in NY. I’ll write Good afternoon. If it’s 4:00pm in Scottsdale and I don’t know if they’ll read the message in the evening or the next morning, I can go with either Good afternoon (email, of course, is time stamped) or Good day.

If you want to project a more innovative and hip image, go for Hi Shakira, or just start with Shakira.

Question #2: What is the best way to point out when you need something responded to within an e-mail, such as due dates, etc., for internal and external communications?

Make it worth their while to respond, or help them understand why it’s important to do so. Robert Cialdini, in his incredible book, Influence, quoted a Harvard study conducted by Ellen Langer. In that study, researchers attempted to cut into line by asking people waiting in line, if they could cut in. When they said only, “Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the copy machine?” 60% of them let the researcher cut in. When the researcher gave a reason and said, “Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush?” 93% of the people waiting on the line let them cut the line. (Read the research for some surprising additional information.) Most social psychologists believe that because they were given a reason, the people waiting on line felt respected and were more likely to comply. When you show respect by telling them why you need what you need, you’ll be more likely to get what you want. Don’t go into every tiny little detail. Just explain enough so they’ll get it, and feel respected, too.

With those outside folks – particularly the ones we call customers – it’s up to you to motivate them so they want to get back to you with whatever you need.

Let’s say you need a credit app completed. It seems like they should know why, but that’s irrelevant. Help them by reminding them of the benefits they’ll receive as soon as the credit app is completed.

When you want a customer to follow-up with you, give them a reason that resonates for them. Saying something like, “If you have questions, please call me” isn’t a compelling reason to call you for 2 reasons.
1. They know they can call you if they have questions and don’t need your permission.
2. There’s no push, no reason, for them to want to call to find out more. This is way better: Please call me (555-555-5555) to review three additional ways we can help you increase attendance at your next meeting. If increasing attendance is important to them, you just may have motivated them to call.

Question #3: What is an ideal automated reply for out of office? The reason for this question is that Dubai has a different weekend compared to the rest of the world and I want to be responsive.

First, tell people when you, or someone else, will get back to them. Then, if you feel an explanation is needed, provide it. Try: Thank you for your email. I’ll respond to your message upon my return to the office Saturday, October 17. Because the Dubai weekend runs from Thursday twilight through Friday evening, the sales office is closed during that time.

Stay away from mamby-pamby responses like I’ll have limited access to email. What is limited? Does that mean you’ll check your email only once a day, once an hour or once when you get back into the office? Your version of limited and your customer’s can be entirely different. Tell them when they can realistically expect to hear back from you.

Also, please don’t tell your customer that you’re away on business. No need to justify yourself to them! The only thing that matters is when they can expect to hear back from you. On the other hand, if you’re on vacation without any desire to access your email, please mention that you’re on vacation and when you’ll follow-up with them. Recipients understand what vacation indicates.

Question #4: If we are unable to make out the gender of the sender how should one address this person?

Carefully. So do whatever you need to, to find out if they’re male or female. Calling a woman, Mr, is just not that endearing. And calling a male, Ms., probably won’t cinch the deal. In my office, we call their office and respectfully ask for clarification. When we can’t do that, if we can tell their first name from their last, and if it’s in the USA or Canada, we just address them by their first name. If it’s outside North America (where business people tend to be more proper and civil – mostly), we use either the entire name (Dear Kantu Rabinowitz), or the French abbreviation of M. The M. can stand for Madam, Monsieur or Madamoiselle and it seems to work (Dear M. Rabinowitz).

Question #5: Is it appropriate to recall an email?
Appropriate? Yes. Smart? No! Here’s the thing: When a message is recalled, it doesn’t necessarily leave the recipient’s mailbox. Often they get both – your original message and the recalled message (which brings attention to the message that you messed up and were hopeful they’ll delete). The truth is that feceiving a recalled message is like driving by an accident scene; you don’t really want to look but you just can’t help yourself.

A better tactic? Send another email with the subject line: Corrected Email: Please disregard (original subject line). Or, Updated Info: Pl disregard (original subject). No promises that they still won’t pop open the other message to see what the error was, but most people have better things to do and don’t want to confuse the issue so they simply delete the original.

Question #6: Can a subject be too long?
Ah. Subject lines. Yes, the subject line can be too long. Depending on the mail application, how the screen is maximized, and the device being used to read your message, your reader sees only a certain number of characters. That’s why it’s critical to begin your subject line with information that matters to them. In case they only see the first 15 spaces, they get “Wow! Your atten” which may pique their interest.

Stay tuned to SpeakerSueSays to learn more about crafting awesome subject lines.

Question #7: Can you provide an example of a “friendly reminder” email when we are expecting information from a client that we have not yet received?

Okay. So I can’t resist. Try not using email. Pick up the phone. Oh, but we’re 11 time zones away, some people say, and the phone isn’t realistic. Really? You can still leave a friendly, caring, professional message explaining why and when you need the information.

Whatever you do – phone or email – avoid giving your company’s operational needs as a reason for asking for your customer’s stuff. They really don’t care if it’s time to pass this information to your Service department. They care that Service serves them.

How about:

Hi Athena,
We want your Quarterly Meeting to be a huge success! The sooner we receive the completed Info Sheet, the sooner we can attend to all the details that are important to you. I’ve attached the Info Sheet for you, and if you can fax it back (555-555-5555) to me by noon tomorrow, our Service department will begin working their magic.
All the best-

More later…

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