Business Email Etiquette

Imagine finding yourself the guilty culprit of any of the following embarrassing, even humiliating, real-life situations…

  • Emailing confidential personal or salary information to your entire firm by accident.
  • Sending a job offer to the wrong person.
  • Making an inappropriate remark about a supervisor or a client and accidentally emailing your message to the maligned individual.
  • Typing a crude or off-color joke intended for a colleague, but mistakenly sending it to your entire department.
  • Inadvertently distributing an internal sales strategy to an outside email list which includes addresses of some of your firm’s competitors.

Though these are some extreme cases, it all still boils down to practicing proper email etiquette, an essentiality in today’s competitive business environment.  Here are some key points to consider when composing and sending emails:

  • Email communication vs. phone call.  Ask yourself if email is the most appropriate method of communication for contacting your desired recipient.  In other words, does the email contain sensitive or confidential information?  Would your manager, supervisor, or compliance office approve of the email if they were to see it?  Or would it be more prudent to simply pick up the phone and call the recipient directly?
  • Respond promptly.  It should go without saying that providing exemplary customer service requires responding to your client emails in a timely manner.  Most firms strive to reply to email inquiries within hours, the same business day, or by the following business day at the latest.  Slow response times not only can make you appear unorganized, uncaring, and/or negligent, but can also reflect poorly on your company and may lead to being outperformed by competitors that better understand the importance of high communication speed and efficiency.
  • Carefully consider the subject line.  It’s crucial to provide a clear, direct, and concise subject line for two main reasons: 1) It grabs the recipient’s attention, and 2) It helps summarize the email content and allows recipient(s) to better determine whether it’s worth their time to open the email and read further (i.e. “Meeting date changed”, “Quick question about your presentation”, “Suggestions for the proposal”, etc.).  Letting readers know how you are addressing their concerns or business issues should be clearly communicated in the subject line.
  • Use common courtesy.  All business related emails should open with an appropriate and courteous greeting (“Hello”, “Hi”, “Good morning/afternoon/day”, etc.) followed by the intended recipient’s name (unless it’s a group email).  The email should also conclude with a polite salutation (“Thank you”, “Sincerely”, “Best Regards”, etc.) followed by your name.  Not doing these simple things can lead to your emails being misinterpreted as demanding or terse in tone.  Make it a regular practice to imagine how the recipient might intend the tone of your message.
  • Keep messages clear and as concise as possible.  This includes keeping sentences short and to the point, while the body of the email should be direct and contain all pertinent information.  Unlike traditional written or typewritten letters, however, it costs no more to send several emails than it does to send just one.  So if you need to communicate with a colleague or client about a number of different topics, consider writing a separate email for each.  This not only can this help better organize your messages for future reference, but also allows your correspondent to focus and reply to each topic, one at a time.
  • Demonstrate professionalism.  Remember that your emails are a reflection of your professionalism, values, and attention to detail.  As an educated professional representing a company that’s providing products and services to paying clients, your email communication should reflect this.  This means typing complete sentences and using proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.  Avoid abbreviating words… and always be sure to proofread and use spell-check!  Capitalize letters where necessary but never type in ALL CAPS as this can be misinterpreted as shouting.  Good communication instills further confidence in clients and encourages others to want to do business with you and your company.
  • Think twice about clicking “Reply All”.  Use this button with careful discretion and consider carefully whether everyone copied on the email really needs to be aware of your reply.  Remember, your colleagues already spend a significant portion of their day reading, composing, and sifting through emails.  No one wants to have to read multiple back-and-forth emails from multiple people over an issue that has nothing to do with them.  So please be respectful of these recipients’ time by not including them in group replies if no further action is needed from them.  Not to mention, refraining from using the “Reply All” button also helps prevent some potentially disastrous situations like the ones that began this blog!

For advisor use only.