The trouble with written communication is that sometimes things get lost in translation. This is especially true of electronic communication, which can be typed a little too quickly and then sent at the click of a button, whether it’s suitable for its audience or not.
The last thing you want is for your customers – existing or potential – to think you’re patronising them, dismissing their concerns or, even worse, shouting at them. You also need to present a positive, professional attitude. So how do you go about doing this?
For my opinion on the importance of spelling, punctuation and grammar, see my earlier blog post. It’s about website text, but it’s highly relevant to email communication, too.
My first rule of internet etiquette is never type in capital letters. To most savvy internet users, being addressed in capitals is akin to being shouted at. Which of these would you prefer to receive?
Example 1: I only received your email this morning.
Example 2: I ONLY RECEIVED YOUR EMAIL THIS MORNING.
The first example appears much less confrontational than the second; it’s a statement of fact. The second seems exasperated, as if the intention behind it is, ‘I can’t believe you expect me to have followed up on that email already!’ That’s definitely not the attitude you want to convey to paying clients.
Choice of Font
Let’s face it. Times New Roman is a very boring font, and Arial’s not far behind. The urge to change it to something else is understandable, and I’m not saying this is a bad idea. Just bear a few things in mind, first.
- Comic Sans MS is one to avoid in a business capacity. Yes, it’s more rounded than Arial or Times New Roman, and it appears friendlier. It’s also well-recognised as a childish font that you’d expect to see on leaflets for playgroups or children’s party invitations. I’m going to assume that your email communication isn’t aimed at children, and advise you to choose a more professional-looking typeface.
- Make sure your font of choice is legible. It might have lots of little curls and loops, or look like perfectly joined up handwriting, but if it takes your email recipient ten minutes of squinting to decipher it, they won’t be in the best of moods by the time they get around to responding.
- If it’s a font comprised of large and small capital letters, with no real lower-case, it’s still going to look as if you’re yelling. Take a look at Copperplate Gothic to see what I mean. That stuff’s fine for website headers, but using it in email communication isn’t the best idea.
- Go for simple and clear – my personal favourite is Verdana. In the Add People office, we use Calibri. Tahoma and Century Gothic won’t steer you far wrong, either.
Also known as ‘smileys’, these combinations of different punctuation marks were invented to convey emotion over the internet. They do this quite effectively, but I wouldn’t recommend using emoticons for business communications unless you have a very informal relationship with your client.
I do quite a lot of freelance work for an author friend of mine. Since we exchange emails about everything from her writing to how her kids are doing, I do throw in the odd 😀 and 🙁 every now and then. If I was communicating with someone I had no personal relationship with, though, I’d be a lot more formal.
Some clients don’t see the personal/professional boundary, and will respond to the most professionally worded email with, ‘Thank you very much! 😀 That’s great! 🙂 Have a good weekend!’ This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s better to have a friendly client than an angry one – but remember that pathological abuse of emoticons makes your company look unprofessional – as does the abuse of the exclamation mark.
Finally, there’s tone. Adapt your mode of address to the situation: it’s a safe bet that you’ll need to be formal if you’re dealing with solicitors, for example. Starting an email to a potentially high-paying client with ‘Hey, Joe!’ isn’t the most advisable course of action. If you don’t appear to be taking your job seriously, the customer could decide to go to someone who does.
At the other end of the scale, you don’t want to use too many technical terms and confuse a client who only has a very basic understanding of what you do. If you cloud your purpose with too much jargon, your client will feel out of their depth and therefore less able to trust you. That’s never a good thing for your company image.
Try to avoid using aloof phrasing or too much ‘office-speak’; it might alienate or intimidate your customer. Telling them you will ‘action the process in the morning’ isn’t a client-friendly approach. Saying you’ll ‘see to it as soon as possible’ is a much better way to phrase it.
To finish off, here’s an example of an email you really shouldn’t send your client. It’s an extreme version, featuring most of the things I’ve talked about above, but you get the picture.
Good to hear from you! How was your weekend? Hope u had a good one!!! 😀
What we need to do now is get together for a chat about the project. I couldn’t reach you on Friday, SO PLEASE GIVE ME AN INDICATION OF WHEN YOU’LL BE IN THE OFFICE. Thank you.
Also, could you please check your email in 30 minutes or so? I’ll be emailing over a Form 161 and I still need to conf. call you with regards to your contract, so pls make yourself available. WE CANNOT PROCEED WITHOUT THIS.