Business Etiquette When E-mailing Clients

By Michael Alter

Using e-mail to communicate with clients, without care for proper business etiquette, may risk your reputation as a trusted advisor. In a rush to send, reply, or forward an e-mail, without first identifying whether a message is for public consumption, may expose information to a wide audience when it should have been addressed one-on-one in a more formal business setting.
Take great care in sending a client an e-mail: the subject line should be brief, the greeting professional, and the message succinct. Your e-mail signature leaves the last impression, so it should look as professional as your business card.
Sending, Forwarding, Filing
E-mail is popular because it is convenient and easy to use. For these reasons, it is easy to send e-mail messages quickly without paying proper attention to business etiquette. Exercise caution when sending e-mail since too many e-mails can overwhelm recipients and devalue the message. Therefore, send e-mail with purpose and send it sparingly. 
When sending or forwarding e-mail, privacy matters. Only include recipients who need to know about the information being distributed. If sending to multiple recipients, ask yourself if every recipient needs the information in your message. If sending to multiple clients, protect the privacy of your list and bcc the recipient list if appropriate.

Top 7 E-mail Etiquette Tips

1. Subject line: Be clear and direct; get to the point of the message.

2. Greeting and closing: Don't make assumptions. Don't assume clients remember you. If there is a possibility they might not remember you, open with a simple reminder of who you are. The closing of your message should be professional and clearly communicate the next step, if a next step is needed.

3. Remain professional in tone: Only discuss matters of your business relationship, and never compose or send an e-mail when you feel tired or angry. A good habit to develop is to read your e-mail message aloud before sending, to listen to the tone as it might be interpreted on the receiving end.

4. Communicate clearly: Details matter. Be comprehensive and eliminate wordiness. Using smiley faces, emoticons, exclamation points, or all caps can make you look less professional.

5. Format and structure: Think of your e-mail as a message that is being printed and sent on company letterhead. Do not structure the message in a way that would overload the recipient with too much information.

6. Frequency: Resist the temptation to send multiple e-mails to a client in one day. Multiple e-mails can overwhelm the recipient and devalue your e-mail communication.

7. E-mail signature: Design your e-mail signature with as much information as your business card. Limit the amount of graphics in your signature line - some spam filters block images or, worse, force your message into the recipient's junk folder.

Subject Line
The subject line of an e-mail sets the tone of your message, so it must be relevant and brief. The subject line will cause a recipient to judge the content before the message is opened, or worse, spam filters may move the message into the recipient's junk mail folder.
Follow these tips for writing a good subject line:
  • Make the subject line relevant, brief, and intriguing.
  • Don't!!!!! use!!!! too!! much!!! punctuation!!!!!
  • Don't use "spammy" words (e.g., free, limited time, discount).
  • Don't use ALL CAPS - it can be perceived as SCREAMING in e-mail and considered to be rude.
Attachments may be necessary but can sometimes cause recipients concern. Attachments have been associated with viruses and may be redirected to the client's junk folder. If the attachment is large, it can slow a computer system, resulting in work stoppage for your client.
Follow these tips when adding attachments:
  • Limit the number of attachments; typically, two are enough.
  • Name the attachment logically.
  • Ask for permission before sending a large attachment. Clients may ask you to send a large attachment on a certain day, at a specific time, or after business hours.
  • Consider making attachments easier for your clients to open by printing a document to PDF and attaching the PDF to your e-mail.
Looking for a free PDF writer? Search Google for "free PDF writer" or visit CutePDF or CNET to download one free of charge.
Responding in a Timely Manner
E-mail can stream in anytime, day or night, and because people tend to check e-mail throughout their workday, customers may expect an almost immediate response. To allow yourself time to work without constantly replying to e-mail, make a point to respond to e-mails within one business day. If the matter requires investigation prior to responding, or, if you cannot respond the same day, proper business etiquette would be to reply to e-mails thanking clients for their message and telling them when they can expect your reply.
When away from your desk during regular business hours or when on vacation, set up vacation auto-reply or out-of-office messages in Outlook to let clients know you are away and to acknowledge the receipt of their message. Your clients will appreciate an auto-response versus no response, knowing when to expect a reply to their message or who they should contact if they need immediate help.
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