Manners have always been touch and go in the email realm. For some reason, it’s just way easy to forget all those hard-earned composition rules we learned in school (i.e. never typing in all caps and never abandoning spell check). It’s also amazingly easier to get snippy, throw temper tantrums, and tell bad jokes.
As more customers and businesses continue to chat with one another via email, Twitter, and chat programs, preventing any cyberspace misfires is of the utmost importance. And it’s not a simple matter of copyediting. Even emails sent with the very best intentions can get mired in woefully failed attempts at humor or confusing missives that ramble on forever.
And while we all might not be born writers, there is really only one very simple golden rule to follow: Treat your online business relationships in the same way you’d treat your in-person business relationships.
“However personal or isolated an experience typing at a computer might be, remember there’s a person at the other end having a similar experience,” says Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of etiquette queen Emily Post. “So much of the inconsiderate behavior we see online comes from people who develop this sense that they’re working in a vacuum. They forget there are other people out there who will be impacted.”
Remember the actual people behind the emails, chats, etc.
Yes, though it is easy to forget, there are people lurking behind those email screens. They might be customers who have purchased your product, subscribed to your services, or on the fence about sinking their money into your business. So when you talk to them, you really have to talk to them as if they were in the room with you. If a new customer is standing in front of you, the chances of delivering a reply dripping in sarcasm is highly unlikely, and it should be equally as unlikely online.
The most common piece of advice Senning gives out is to behave online as if you are on the main street of your hometown. “You want to model the behavior you want to see. And one bad turn doesn’t necessarily deserve or justify another,” he says.
Sweet! So what do we do now?
- In email, stick to the facts. The subtler aspects of communication – emotion, humor, sarcasm – don’t translate as well.
- Take time to proof those emails, engage spell check, and behave like a preposition or grammar Nazi if need be to make the right impression.
- Have a strong company email policy, one that’s detailed enough that customer service reps (or whoever) know what’s expected of them at all times and what to do if they are unsure.
- But the policy should not be so detailed that it’s unenforceable or becomes ridiculous. With a strong policy there is little room for personal opinions or creative license.
- Write complete sentences in a way that suggests you know what you’re talking about and did in fact graduate from grade school.
- Don’t send out emails filled with typos, forget to capitalize your name, and miss other basic grammar rules; it’s bad for the company’s image.
(Above tips courtesy of Judith Kallos, creator of NetManners.com and TheIStudio.com, through which she operates a network of email etiquette sites.)
That’s right, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Even when the psycho commenter won’t relent, under no circumstances should you get drawn into any infantile, email-based pissing contests to prove superiority.
But I’m really funny
OK, so that stuff is kind of obvious, but what about those times when, hey, you’re a funny guy or gal, and you just wanted to make the exchange between you and customer a little fun. Everyone has probably lived through the aftermath of a perfectly innocent email received in the completely wrong way. What people must remember is that cyberspace lacks an important ingredient for communication: non-verbal cues.
“When you get a telephone call you retain tone of voice and inflection, but you lose all of the non verbal cues that come from body language, dress, manner, eye contact,” Senning says. “When you go to email you remove yet another layer of interpretation.”