Email Response Time Matters

Our tech industry runs on email. It’s our default, primary way of communicating with one another. I check my email first thing in the morning, sometimes while still in bed (no judgement, we all do it), and then again, right before I go to sleep.

In a fast-paced company, email response time matters. And now that we’re always connected with our smartphones and tablets, the underlying expectation is: the faster, the better. When someone emails you, they want an answer yesterday. Of course, given that time travel isn’t yet possible, 24 hours is acceptable — which is easier said than done.

Studies around customer service show us that 95% of those who have a complaint are happier when given an acceptable response; and when the response isn’t necessarily what the customer wants to hear, ANY response results in 30% retention of those customers. When customers are frustrated, the last thing they want is to be ignored. Moreover, quickly responding also makes a difference and correlates to continued loyalty. (Kahn 24)

Granted, this data relates to customer service; but why not think of everyone you interact with as your customer? Even if you can’t give an answer right away or have to deliver not-so-great news, addressing an email sooner rather than later will always work in your favor.

I started looking at my inbox more closely and noticed four types of emails that require a response. Here’s how I go through them quickly and efficiently:

  1. The “quick question” email: If the reply comes directly to mind and you can type and send in the moment — type it and send right away. Likewise, if you’re not the right person to answer, say so. And if you know who may be able to answer, add the appropriate person to the thread (or reply back with a name) and move on to the next email.
  2. The “this could take five (or more) minutes, so I’ll come back to it later” email: If you need more time, it’s ok! Reply with a quick note saying you have read their email and you need more time, so you’ll get back to them. Be as transparent as possible. If a day or two has gone by, and you still need more time, shoot them a quick email resetting their expectations, so they know you haven’t forgotten about them and that they’re still top of mind.
  3. The “they’re not going to like what I have to say so let me put this off for later” email: We all hate delivering bad news. It’s uncomfortable; I get it. Just do it. Similar to ripping off a band-aid, the anticipation of having to send the email is much worse than actually sending it. Another way to look at it is, the sooner you can deliver the news, the more time the recipient has to figure out their next steps.
  4. The “this person is clearly upset/frustrated/any emotion other than happy” email: These emails are highest in priority. As much as you may want to pretend like you never received it because it’s unsettling and/or you may not know how to respond, you should reply carefully and quickly. If you find yourself being affected by the email, take a walk, clear your mind, and then respond. I recommend finding a buddy at work whom you trust and have them be a second pair of eyes for you before you hit that send button to make sure your response is not defensive or contentious.

Whether you’re in a customer-facing role or not, response time is something to be very cognizant about. The next time you open up your inbox, think of everyone as your “customer” and try to put yourself in their shoes.

— Your friend

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