As we approach the festive season, many of us heave a huge sigh of relief as the volume of e-mail traffic decreases as producers start winding down for Christmas and retailers are too busy to e-mail.  However, for the rest of the year, the sheer volume of e-mails can result in low productivity as employees are permanently fire-fighting rather than focussing on the task in hand.


For those of us receiving a large volume of e-mails per day, the most efficient way of processing them is to turn off your e-mail provider, whether that be Outlook or another, and turn it back on again for, say, three times a day, and deal with your e-mails in batches.  My working life naturally does that for me many days anyway, as I often have half or whole days away from my laptop, so end up processing around 150-200 e-mails (my average) after working hours.  In fact, being in a different time zone actually helps as you then don’t get the instant replies from the “immediate repliers” which generates even more traffic!


There is no doubt that e-mails can make us more efficient if used properly but there also several huge dangers with it that can damage relationships and business!


 - Most communication is mainly by tone of voice and body language with only 15% being the words themselves, so whilst on the phone you have 2 out of 3, on e-mail you only have one – the words.  Frequently in the nineties, the early days of e-mail people got upset by the short, harsh sentences and emoticons were born to alleviate the hard edge of words.


 - You have no idea whether your e-mails are being read (don’t believe read receipts) or, more importantly, understood by the recipients.  On the phone or face to face you have an opportunity to “hear” or see puzzled faces and can explain your message in more detail.


 - Some sales people think that firing off a load of e-mails is selling.  It is not.  Selling is done via relationship and you can’t effectively build a business relationship via e-mail.  Of course, you can communicate important information to an existing customer via e-mail, but to discover whether they are going to act on it, pick up the phone!  Your customers and potential customers can very easily ignore e-mails, but if you ask to be put through to the buyer every day for a week, there will be other staff at the other end of the phone who will encourage them to take the call, to stop them ringing again!


 - Following on from above, because of the large volume of mails, particularly to the buyers of larger companies they can often appear rude (and sometimes are!) by not acknowledging e-mails in any way, shape or form.  And I am talking about existing customers here, some of whom are spending decent amounts of money.  In my opinion, there is no excuse for not sending a short holding reply to an e-mail saying that you “are too busy to look at that right now, but give me a week and I will get back to you”  - see it took me 12 seconds to type that.  It wasn’t too difficult, was it?!  With e-mails personally addressed to me I will always endeavour to do this.


 - The “To:” box can cause problems.  It is amazing how many people put more than one name in the To: box and then wonder why nothing happens.  That’s because with two names in the box Peter thinks Paul is doing it and Paul thinks Peter is doing it.  One person in the box and they know it is down to them.  If you are genuinely sending a message that needs action from two or more people, then clearly indicate within the body of the e-mail who is doing what.


 - Copying in the world and her dog just wastes time.  If you use the Cc: box, then do it with discretion.  People covering their own backsides do this too often.  Just stop it now!  Think: do they really need to know about this or can I deal with this with just myself and the person I am e-mailing.  Generally, the latter will do for most.  Stop and think before copying in the whole company about a customer who had a label missing on their jar of chutney!


Some simple rules, and I hope I haven’t sounded too “preachy” but I am trying to make us more efficient  - and also selfishly reduce the number of mails I receive! 


OK, I’m off and putting my “out of office” on!