By: Sam Nosrati, HCM Specialist
Whether you are communicating with a colleague on an exciting business prospect or resolving a client’s needs, you will most likely choose electronic mail (email) as your go-to means of communication. This medium is as efficient as it is cost effective, and it allows you to communicate in a nearly instantaneous fashion while retaining a paper trail for future reference purposes.
Indeed, your business email account is a representation and an extension of your company and, in most cases, your primary means of conveying information to individuals outside of your firm. However, it is also very restricting in that you cannot express yourself through your tone of voice, handshake, dress and posture, but rather through the words you choose and how you format your message. As such, you should take some basic steps to format your messages such that they convey professionalism and exude trust amongst your colleagues and clientele.
Let us start with the foundation of an email message, namely email account settings. We want to make the message clear and legible to the reader. As such, choose a neutral font (Times New Roman or Calibri, as examples), and a font size ranging from 10 to 14. You may also configure a light background with your company logo if required by management, but be very cautious not to obscure the text. As you create an email signature, try to avoid any quotations or statements that could potentially misrepresent the company or communicate the wrong message to your clients.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of proper spelling and grammatical correctness, as a misspelled word may be easily interpreted as carelessness or sheer ignorance on your part, and may harm your company’s image and credibility. The same would apply to the use of slang and text-message acronyms in your business correspondence, though it may be appropriate outside the office.
It is better to proofread your message for errors rather than rely upon your email program’s spellcheck feature, as your computer cannot decipher the context of your words and your intended message. While you are proofreading, sift out special characters, excessive capitalization of letters and unnecessary punctuation marks, as these befit a private message rather than a professional business correspondence.
Refer to your client by his/her official name unless he/she has requested that you use a nickname instead. If you are responding to your client’s original message, peruse his/her email signature for a preferred name, and communicate appropriately. If you must include additional people on the email, Bcc your business colleagues to protect their account privacy and Cc only those individuals who have hitherto communicated with this client on the same issue. As a best practice, you may send a courtesy message to your colleague to verify if he/she would like to be included in the conversation.
As with a musical performance, you should begin and end your email conversation with a pleasantry and introduction. As an example, you may write, “Good morning, Bill. Welcome back from vacation!” and end with, “Have a wonderful day, Bill. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have.” Please note that the use of an exclamation mark in the introductory mark is appropriate within this particular context, though it may become out of hand if used more than once in a message.
Similar to a poem, your message should be concise and visually appealing to your client, not a prolonged masters dissertation (personal comment). As such, aim towards a concise message that addresses all of your main points, with commas and periods to avoid run-on sentences. Also, be sure to use short paragraphs in your message, as you do not want to overwhelm the reader.
As you communicate with colleagues and clients overseas, you may note that certain clients communicate in a more personal, elaborate fashion than the more reserved communication style that we are accustomed to in the United States. In your communication with these individuals, be mindful of cultural differences and communicate accordingly, without compromising on business etiquette. Be especially wary of any comments or phrases that may be misconstrued by your client due to language and cultural barriers. If possible, communicate with a business partner who is stationed in the host country for advice on how to best communicate with this client.
Business communications must remain objective, not subjective in the sense that communication is different from one day to the next, or reflective of mood swings and fluctuating emotional states. These communications are productive only to the extent that you are willing to set aside personal convictions for the better interest of your company and the longevity of your business relationships. As we have explored earlier in this discussion, electronic mail is inherently open to interpretation given its restriction to nothing more than the written word. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all members of an institution not to express anger or negative judgement in email communications, as these messages may be easily misinterpreted with dire consequences for your company.
Before sending your message, take a quick minute to read through it and make any necessary revisions before sending it. Once a message is sent, you no longer have the luxury of recalling it or preventing its transfer to other individuals, whether intentional or not. As such, be very wary of all email communications, as there is always the possibility that it may be shared outside of your group. As a best practice, utilize secure mail when communicating sensitive information, or converse via a private phone line (if available).
Perhaps the most challenging element with email messages is the sheer volume of messages that appear in our inbox each day, and our clients’ expectations on when to expect a response. Most of your clients may indeed consider their issue or concern of paramount importance, regardless of your hard deadlines and pressing obligations for any given day. It would therefore be pertinent to stick to a schedule when handling emails, and set the expectation that emails will be answered within a 48 period (or shorter, depending on your personal schedule and management’s discretion). In those instances when a solution cannot be offered in such a short period of time, notify your client that you will work on the referenced issue and will respond with a resolution by a given date. Further, if you will be away from the office or away from your computer for a substantial period of time, set an automated message that would notify your clients of your unavailability and the date when you would be able to respond.
In conclusion, electronic mail is an excellent yet risky means of communication, in that it is nearly instantaneous in its delivery yet prone to unwanted exposure and misinterpretation. In contrast, during a one-on-one meeting, there are various verbal and non-verbal cues to help you in interpreting your partner’s message, and it is far easier to develop trust and camaraderie in such instances. Email, however, does not afford you the opportunity to pick up on a person’s tone and intended message, and you are left with nothing more than written words. As such, be sure to exercise email etiquette and be mindful of your role in properly representing your firm before you click Send on a business email.