Modern technology is constantly accelerating the response times of email which in turn creates unrealistic expectations that ultimately result in error, stress and email overload,. Dr Monica Seeley, the expert in email management and author of Brilliant Email has pointed out that just a few years ago we expected an email to be responded to within a couple of days, or even a week.
Her new survey however reveals that 25% of us now expect a response to our emails within an hour. While a third of want a response within 2 hours and over 2/3 within 12 hours. Only a quarter of us now feel that waiting a day for a response is acceptable, and a measly 7% of us are happy to wait 2 days. Today’s culture demands that we are always switched on and smartphones, email and social media has meant that we are now always there waiting for instants responses.
We are putting ourselves under the pressure that an email must be answered as soon as it hits our inbox. The problem is that like driving, the faster you respond the more damage we do when we invariably make mistakes. Dr Monica Seeley has said that we are confusing the speed of responding to an email with effectiveness, and we are essentially allowing today’s technology to dictate to us how we work in a potentially damaging way, and we seriously need to reduce the email overload and reduce expectations.
Garth Ralston, Business Intelligence Development Manager for Aimia who manage large customer loyalty schemes like Nectar and Aeroplan agrees. He is introducing an email etiquette scheme across his division giving guidelines on email conduct including expected response times.
“Most of us now have Blackberries or iPhones making it easy to interact 24×7. As a result, even if you don’t reply, the general presumption is that you will have read the message whatever time it was sent. In the office, the speed of expected response is even more acute. I sometimes get a phone call just 20 minutes after someone has sent me an email to see what I think of it. I also receive meeting requests 20-30 minutes before a meeting and the inviter is surprised when I don’t attend. Our email etiquette sets out rules we will aspire to follow i.e. people should not expect a response from an email they send before the following day. Similarly as a receiver if they need more time to respond fully they should send an email to confirm receipt and state when they will reply.”
Monica Seeley explains that much of the pressure for fast replies is in the mind of the recipient saying many senior managers tell her they are surprised by how quickly people respond to their emails. This is borne out by the survey which shows that most respondents (83%) felt that internal senders expect a quicker reply than external senders and (87%) believed senior managers expected a faster response than junior managers. Similarly, over three quarters of respondents strongly believed (76%) that people picking up email on smart phones such as Blackberry or iPphone expect a faster reply than those dealing with email on a conventional PC/laptop.
The survey, among one hundred respondents from a range of leading public and private sector organisations also highlights double standards around email response times. Although, most of us now expect a response within half a day – almost two thirds (60%) of respondents admitted they only sometimes left people sufficient time to respond to their emails and only a third (39%) of survey respondents thought they ‘frequently’ left enough time. Monica says; “This is a worrying trend, as emails often need a substantive response – data needs collecting, case law needs referencing and the faster we respond, the faster the other person will expect a reply.”
The IT Director of a leading retailer of luxury goods agrees adding; “Our customer facing employees and their email response times are driven by the level of service people expect from a premium brand. However, speed of response should not be confused with quality service. We were aware of a lack of consistency in speed and depth of response between internal senders and some unrealistic reply expectations particularly between those juggling customer requirements and the internal people they needed information from. So we are changing our culture and setting realistic expectations to get consistent and appropriate response times externally and internally.”
To help combat unrealistic expectations and unnecessary emails Monica Seeley advises people to improve their email etiquette. For example by including a line in their email signature stating that they check their email at regular intervals but not as each email arrives. Alternatively she advises the use of an auto response with the same message. Similarly she applauds organisations that have a statement on their customer service webpage stating how soon they will reply i.e. within three days. She recommends that businesses start adopting similar frameworks for every day emails, especially internal ones.
“Respond in haste and repent at leisure has been the mantra of many who have found their email used as evidence in a dispute. A wrong or unplanned response can be costly. This survey confirms my view that it’s time for us all to recalibrate our email expectations and reply times.” concludes Monica Seeley.