Normally, I don’t have a problem asking directives of your contacts. Want to close the deal? Ask for it. Want a review of your company on Yelp or WeddingWire? Ask for it, and guide them on the lingo. Want to have lunch on Tuesday with the hottest new event pro in town? Ask for it by inviting them, don’t wait until everyone else has.
But this auto-reply message described as “World’s Greatest” by Holger Reisinger, a Sr. VP at Jabra (those bluetooth headphone guys) is a bit jarring. It starts out humorous, and yes I smiled. You should follow the link to the original post to see Reisinger’s response, but to put my response in context here is the email body text of the auto-reply:
Dear colleagues and friends,
Because of a ridiculous backlog of unread emails in my account, I have been forced to step off the “hamster wheel” of responding to emails and instead focus on getting some work done.
When I resume reading emails tomorrow, I will give highest priority to ones that:
1. Are no longer than 100 word
2. Clearly state the purpose in the Subject line
3. Enable me to reply with one of the following: Agree, Disagree or Need more information
For urgent matters, book me for a 10-minute Skype4Business call after 15:00. This will likely help us solve the matter faster and with a better result.
If you would like to join me in stepping out of the hamster wheel, read this blog posting.
Thank you for your understanding.
Thankfully, Reisinger hit on some of the very points that I felt after reading it. Personally, I feel it’s a little harsh, especially since most of the emails I get are from prospects I’m trying to turn into paying clients.
Here’s 3 spots where I see it fail
- You’re asking a lot. Yes, three things is a lot. I have to count my words (is it really shorter than 100?)
- You created an expectation. One that says to the sender, “I’m going to resume responding tomorrow.” Here’s the problem though… If you don’t get to the email by the end of tomorrow, someone may decide they just aren’t important enough. (WHO it’s from can trump SUBJECT)
- You just asked for another email. Yeah, you just finished telling me how you have a”ridiculous backlog of unread emails” and now you want me to write you another one, likely with a different subject. I guess I have to hope that the correct one is read first so that the other can be ignored?
There are many merits to this message
Again, the opening of a “hamster wheel” joke is great. It lightens the tone of the message, and probably helps the original sender get over the fact his or her original message is currently being set aside. I love that there is a link to another blog post about productivity, the thing that the auto-reply is attempting to provide.
Most of all, I love the ability to schedule the 10-minute call after 3:00pm. Adding that “this will likely help us solve the matter faster and with a better result” is actually the golden highlight for me. Because now you set a new expectation: In 10 minutes of less, we can talk and move on with our business. Personally, I think that limiting this to “urgent” matters is missing out on other meaningful communication.
Start by asking better questions
Is email dead? Hardly.
Do emails get read regularly? Hardly.
However, one of the greatest single pieces of advice that I’ve heard from Wedding Business Expert Alan Berg is to never ask more than one question in your emails. There are a few situational parameters when this applies, but the short end of it is this: If you want an answer, you’re more likely to respond to one question than you are to five or ten or fifteen. My own email conversation have gotten better, regardless of how long the email message is, when I ask one question.
For example, if I’m trying to schedule a time to meet with someone I no longer let them randomly decide. I will usually offer up 2-3 times and ask which one works best for them. That’s it, I don’t ask them anything else. When they reply, then there is an opportunity for another questions. They reply, another. And another. And another.
Reisinger and his colleague seem to think that this keeps up on an email answering hamster wheel. I disagree. I think this keep our customer engaged in the conversation and we remain top of mind in the process. And if this is a prospect, know your goal, map out the journey.
If your goal is to get a meeting, know what 2-5 questions you can ask to get to that stage. You can keep the conversation organic when they ask you a question in return, however having a documented process will keep you laser focused and get you to that next stage faster.