How to Stop Email From Slipping Through the Cracks
Email is everywhere, and it is overwhelming.
Some workers report receiving up to 500 emails per day and have 5,000 emails in their inbox, requiring hours a day just to try to manage their inboxes.
With so much incoming email about customer service, project milestones, and more, mistakes happen. It’s no wonder 62 percent of workers have reported email mishaps.
Managing email well is about more than the right notification settings on your phone, or checking your inbox a couple of times a day. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ve outgrown email as a support and communications tool either. Preventing emails from slipping through the cracks can be as simple as making the following improvements.
Delegate, don’t forward
Just as different team members take care of specific project tasks, email can be managed more effectively when you’re delegating so that the right people deal with the right emails:
1. Have website contact forms automatically route emails to the correct person based on why the customer is reaching out (e.g., requesting a quote, needing a return, and so on)
2. Delegate email to an assistant so they can manage some of your correspondence or routine emails. Email services such as Gmail also have options for email delegation, allowing select access to your account.
3. Leverage add-on services like Outpost that let you assign new messages to specific team members, so you know who is responsible for each message—and don’t have to maintain separate tracking just for your inbox. Forwarding emails is a little like launching a bowling ball off the side of a cliff. You’re taking your chances, and it’s pretty hard to see where that bowling ball ends up after it’s out of site. Assigning emails to specific team members leaves a trail so you can see whether the message has been resolved or if it’s still awaiting a response.
Email delegation can work for organizations of any size, says John Barry, Executive Director for the Arts and Business Alliance of Eugene (ABAE), a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation based in Eugene, Oregon. It’s a partnership between the City of Eugene, Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, Lane Community College, University of Oregon and Travel Lane County. ABAE enables collaborations between the arts, education, public, and business sectors.
Barry manages two email addresses, a general “director” email, and one under his name. He personally manages many emails, but “if there is anything incoming that’s more appropriate for a board member to deal with, I forward it,” along with context on the situation so the board member has a good starting point. “Otherwise, I handle it directly, or if it doesn’t merit a reply, I archive or delete it.”
Using an email service that has a private “notes” function can help streamline those sorts of email handoffs, so you’re not in danger of forwarding on comments that someone on your team needed for context, but that were not meant to be read by the external sender.
Designate specific inboxes for primary projects, teams, and/or areas
In addition to team members having their own individual emails, it can be useful to have specific emails for certain departments, events, and even throwaway addresses to use when signing up for various online accounts.
Have general addresses for departments, such as marketing@, service@, and sales@
Emails to those addresses can then be reviewed, delegated, or replied to accordingly. Outpost makes it easier for one person in your organization to field messages that arrive in several different inboxes, all from the same email interface—you don’t have to log into three or four different accounts.
Limit access to your personal email
Only give out your personal email on business cards or to direct personal contacts. Try to keep these emails focused on correspondence.
Make use of general accounts
For website accounts, instead of using your personal address, set up a general organization email (like email@example.com) or use free webmail services for “signup emails.” You can then use these emails as your address for online services, lists, or other times where you need to provide an email, but multiple people will need to use your login credentials.
“I get on lists, but I have a Yahoo account I use,” says Barry. “If I know I’m going to get a lot of spam, I use that address. I try only to give out my own email to people, instead of using it to sign up on websites.”
Barry also recommends taking time to look at the organization as a whole and set up specific emails to ease inbox congestion.
“If I started over with a small organization, I would create more aliases than we currently have,” he explains. “We’d set up emails aligned with info, and one for each of our programs, such as our Business Recognizing Arts Vision and Achievement, our BRAVA, Breakfast, and our regular Arts After Hours program. It would have been helpful to have emails specific to those events, to auto-filter emails as they come into an account that’s specifically for that need and event.”
See responses in real time to know what’s been replied to and what’s waiting for a response
When dozens or hundreds of emails are sitting in a queue, you need to know in real time what is being dealt with, what is on deck, and what still needs to be assigned or evaluated.
You don’t want to waste time or sacrifice productivity—or look bad to a customer—by having an email slip through the cracks (and never get a response) or receive conflicting responses from more than one person.
Real-time status is crucial. Make sure your email management system gives you access to at-a-glance status reports. That way, if someone is drafting a reply, you can easily see that someone is on it. If an email needs to be assigned to a team member, you want to be able to see that it still needs attention.
Share inboxes with the whole team
When using department email addresses or other general email addresses, it can be useful for the entire team to have access. That way, no one point of contact is the sole gatekeeper—helpful when someone is swamped with other duties, for example, or out of the office and off email.
Create shared inboxes for specific topics or departments
Shared inboxes such as your info@, sales@, service@, and so on are perfect for team sharing.
Let your team access departmental inboxes
Give all team members access to their department’s general email (e.g., accounting@, marketing@, and similar)
Build a common processes
If an email addresses or is assigned to a specific team member, that person needs to take point on the response; anyone cc’d or on the general email needs to review the original email.
Give team members unique login credentials
Each team member should have their own unique login, too, so managers can know at a glance who has read or replied to a shared email. Having multiple people logging into department inboxes with the same credentials is a recipe for messy, suboptimal communication with your customers.
A shared inbox also means that the entire team knows what’s coming in and what the team is handling—while also making sure that there aren’t duplicate replies or emails the just seem to disappear without a response from your company.
Route all your business email accounts to one place
No matter how many email addresses you are responsible for, efficient sign-ins are needed. If you only deal with a couple of accounts, that may not be a big deal, but constantly switching between multiple accounts can be a demotivating productivity sapper.
“The biggest task is managing the two email accounts,” says Barry. His duties require him to manage two email accounts, which he prioritizes based on email volume. “One I access on my phone, and that reaches me immediately. The other address, I only check on my laptop.”
Beyond one or two email addresses, switching accounts can become unwieldy. Instead of constant account switching, look into options for helping your team manage all their company email accounts from one central location. Having all your email accounts in one place can help you seamlessly and quickly review each account, reply to emails, and manage, archive, and delete. Email accounts in one place can be more effective and efficient for you and your entire team.
Make your own emails more likely to be seen and read
When you’ve figured out the best way to manage your company’s inflow of emails, take a look at the level of quality of the responses you and your team are sending. If your emails are clear and easily understood (and stick to consistent messaging across your team), they’re more likely to be read. After all, writing a solid email the first time can decrease the odds that you have to have spend time writing back and forth to clear things up.
“My belief is that if you can help people filter emails with how you write emails,” says Barry, “your email can be more effective and be more likely to be seen and read. All of us get so much email, so every email I write I put ‘ABAE’ in the subject line. It helps people filter things.”
Here are some tips to help you and your team’s emails hit their target:
1. Use a keyword in the subject line, such as an event or project name: “April Business After-Hours—Catering Options”
2. Keep subject lines concise: “Agenda for our Tuesday conference call”
3. Make your main point or request in the first paragraph, along with any social proof such as a word-of-mouth referral or shared acquaintance: “Kate Boss mentioned to me that you were looking for a new email management tool. Below are a couple of details about one I work with. If it looks like it could meet your needs, let me know when you’d like to discuss more in-depth or arrange a free trial.”
4. Aim to keep responses around five sentences. It can be challenging—but that focus can result in clearer, more effective emails, plus less work for both you and the person you’re emailing. Want a bigger challenge? Consider treating email replies like text messages—and keep them to two sentences.
5. Don’t forget to communicate like a human, not an email robot. There are some simple strategies for warming up your email messages that can help without sacrificing productivity.
The more you and your team can keep on top of emails, the more productive you can be—and the more motivated you can feel.
After all, no one wants to feel like they’re chained to their inbox. With these tips, you won’t have to be—and you won’t have to worry about important emails slipping through the cracks.
Posted in Email