Knowing When to Hit ‘Send’
Decades ago, the story goes, a woman traveling overseas sent a telegraph to her husband asking permission to buy jewelry. Her husband responded: NO. COST TOO GREAT.

Unfortunately, the woman received the response: NO COST TOO GREAT.

There’s hardly a business person using e-mail today who can’t relate to the poor guy whose mangled message cost him dearly. Despite its simplicity, speed and general acceptance, small details still impact the way your customers see and interpret a message — sometimes to your detriment.

Drawing on his own experience and that of clients, Philadelphia-based communications coach Nick Morgan wrote The Ten Commandments of E-Mail for Harvard Business School Publishing.

“If your message absolutely must be perfect, then don’t e-mail it,” Morgan says. “Punctuation, spelling and grammar get mysteriously lost. Meaning gets misconstrued. Inflection is implied or inferred. If your message must be error-free, it should be sent by another medium.”

This becomes paramount when dealing with a dissatisfied customer. Morgan’s advice in responding to a scathing e-mail message from a miffed yet misguided customer?

“E-mail can easily be angry, hurtful or critical,” he says. Therefore, wait to respond. Don’t send e-mail when you’re tired or furious. If your problem with a customer is critical, then don’t respond via e-mail at all.

— Paul Kennedy is a business and technical writer based in Mosinee, Wis.

E-mail etiquette tips

  • Be concise. Don’t make e-mail longer than it needs to be.
  • Answer all questions and pre-empt further questions. Additional questions will waste time and create frustration.
  • Answer swiftly: Customers send e-mail expecting a quick response.
  • Spelling, punctuation and complete sentences matter.
  • Be polite. Addressing someone as Mr. or Mrs. may seem formal, but it is better to err on the side of formality than to inadvertently insult someone by being too casual.
  • Don’t write in CAPITALS. Not only is the practice annoying, it is considered a form of yelling in e-mail etiquette and might trigger an unwanted response.
  • Do not use e-mail to discuss confidential information. If you don’t want your e-mail to be displayed on a bulletin board, don’t send it.
  • Think first before you copy others on the message. The more people you copy the more people have a permanent record of your comments long after the situation disperses.