Category Archives: Etiquette

This Email is Bloggable Signature

I’ve been thinking about when to send an email verses blog. I’ve decided on a loose guideline: if more than 3 people would find something useful, I’ll blog it. If not it’s an email (or, even better, an instant message)

Somethings, like mailing lists, don’t map well to this guideline. To cover that, I’ve followed Ross Mayfield’s cue and added a “this email is bloggable” flag to my email signature.

This message is blog-able:
[x] yes [ ] please don’t

Notice this is a simplification from Mayfield’s 3 checkbox version – to me “please ask” really means “please don’t”. While reading his Email 2.0 post, I realized the sig could be simplified further. To minimize confusion, I don’t include the bloggable flag in private or “please don’t” messages anyway. That, and “please don’t” never felt right. In addition, if I don’t explicity grant you permission to use a private or semi-private email message publicly – then well, you won’t. Cause that ain’t Web 2.0 cool.

Thus, I’ve revised my flag to read:

– Feel Free to Blog This Message –

Six Step Process to Motivate Others

In a highly collaborative working environment, the traditional hierarchical relationship between employees doesn’t exist. The result is peers making requests to one another to move their respective projects forward. More akin to a volunteer organization than a button-down for-profit business.

The best volunteer organizations use a 6-step process to motivate peers in assisting. This is a time-proven process for both getting things done and clearly identifying those individuals that are not at all interested in your project. Use it whenever you need to make a request of someone’s time.

  1. Introduce Yourself.
    It’s so easy yet so frequently ignored. If you’re making the request over the phone, it is doubly important that you introduce yourself, the organizations you’re representing, the person you wish to speak with, and why you’re calling.

    “Hi, this is Garrick Van Buren from Working Pathways. I’m calling for Darrel Austin regarding the AcmeCo Accessibility Audit. Is now a good time to talk?”

    This is very similar to my earlier Get Your Email Read post. Notice the “is now a good time…” question. Always provide an out at this point. It’s most polite to do all this upfront. Otherwise you’re wasting your peer’s valuable time and reducing the chance they’ll help you now or in the future.

  2. Provide an Update.
    This is where you provide a quick, 2-sentence background on the project you’re working on who referred you to them. For example:

    “I’m working with Darrel Austin on redesigning the AcmeCo.com shopping cart process. We’re about to evaluate the new model with AcmeCo’s best customers.”

  3. Define the Problem.
    This is why you need their assistance. Again, make it brief – 1 sentence is ideal.

    “We have evaluations scheduled for early next week and we do not have all the timeslots booked.”

  4. Define the Solution.
    One sentence describing how you want to solve the previously stated problem.

    “The good news is store managers like yourself are helping out.”

  5. State the Urgency.

    “It’s going great, and we have one last remaining timeslot to fill before the end of business today.”

  6. Ask Them.
    This is where you formally request something from them. At this point, they have a clear understanding of the situation you’re in and how they can help. They’re thinking 1 of 3 things at this point.
    1. “I’ll help by filling in that last timeslot.”
    2. “How can I help?”
    3. “I’m not interested in helping.”

    This is your opportunity to make a clear, formal request to them:

    “Can I put you down for the Wednesday 4pm timeslot?”

    If there are multiple ways the person can assist you, start with the option requiring the greatest commitment and wait for a ‘No’ before offering the next option.
    If they decline all options – I recommend re-evaluating them as a future resource.

Get Your Email Read with Specific, Compelling Subject Lines

One of my biggest pet peeves is vague email subject lines. This is for two reasons;

  1. Sometimes I only have time to read the subject lines – anything urgent needs to jump out.
  2. If I need to file and revisit the email, a clear specific subject line is easiest to re-find.

My experience analyzing open rates and click-through behavior tells me if you want your opt-in marketing email to be read – the subject lines need to be specific, descriptive, and compelling. I’m sure Curt at ExactTarget would agree. The same goes for messages to your colleagues, friends, and family.

Clear, compelling subject lines not only set more accurate expectations for your recipient, they also have a better chance of surviving the numerous SPAM and virus filters between you and your recipient.

We’re all familiar with the vague subject lines of virus carrying emails:

  • “the information you requested”
  • “your resume”
  • “Here is it”
  • “hi, it’s me”
  • “something for you”

Compare these against the subject lines currently in my inbox:

  • “Please Call Me”
  • “your comments appreciated”
  • “Tuesday”
  • “update”
  • “See attached”

Without checking the ‘From’ line, I’m hard pressed to separate the personal, legitimate messages from the hazardous, virus-laden mail.

At the most basic level, subject lines are more like headlines than book titles. Like all compelling headlines – and proper sentences – they need a subject, verb, and predicate. An easy way to guarantee this is by pushing the message details into the subject line. Think of the short text messaging service – SMS – the mobile phone providers are promoting. The brief, one-line messages these services support are like an email without the body.

By making better use of your email’s subject line, you’ll spend less time writing your email and it will be better received.

Anticipate Customer Needs

That was the mantra uncovered with each of the hotel concierge interviews we conducted a couple years back. Anticipating need is an excellent model for the customer relationship. It inherently means that the service provider – account manager, waiter, concierge, project manager – has a deep understanding of their service. Deep enough to know what clients need when by instinct or the subtlest clues.

I remember the story of a concierge-in-training responding to a guest’s request for coffee. He delivered the coffee and a single cup to the room – containing 2 guests. In this case, the lack of a second cup is more irritating than its inclusion.

Kevin Salwen from Worthwhile relays an interesting, unintrusive model for signalling need. Though it feels like training wheels for waiters, it supports a far better experience than multiple staff members continually interupting conversation.

Mobile Phone Etiquette Tips

SprintPCS has partnered with etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore to compile an excellent list of 10 mobile phone etiquette tips

Number 1…

Let your voicemail take your calls when you’re in meetings, courtrooms, restaurants and other busy areas. If you must speak to the caller, excuse yourself and find a secluded area where you can talk

Thank you SprintPCS for publishing this list. It should be distributed with every mobile phone sold.

Taking Ownership

Clients, customers, collegues don’t care why there’s a problem. They just want it fixed and to move on. To do that, each person approached with a client issue needs to take ownership of problem and feel they have the authority to deliver a satisfactory solution quickly.

Take this Ritz Carlton experience for example:

At exactly 7:00 p.m. I returned. I was there, but dinner wasn’t. At 7:11 I called Gloria…she immediately apologized and said a rush would be placed on my order. At 7:22 there was a knock at the door….”Mr. Blackman, Gloria and I once again apologize that your dinner has arrived late. Tonight, your meal is compliments of the Ritz.”

Gloria didn’t need to check with her manager – the Ritz trusts each and every employee to solve their guests issues effectively. All organizations need to trust their employees to take this level of ownership.

A Polite Response is Reciprocal

Recently, I’ve noticed an impolite practice from some of our vendors. When you connect with a person in customer service, this is the initial exchange

“Hello, I’m Steve. May I have your account number?”

Rather asking me to reciprocate and introduce myself – as is a common and expected practice in our culture – they immediately ask for information I’m unfamiliar with, frequently not ready to recite, and may not be relevant to the forthcoming conversation.

Then they ask for my name.

From my perspective – the customer – this starts the conversation off disrespectfully. By simply flipping the order of the statements, a more polite, customer-sensitive interaction is promoted. I submit:

“Hello, my name is Steve. Who am I speaking with?”

“Hi Steve, this is Garrick Van Buren.”

“Mr. Van Buren how may I assist you?”

“Steve, I’d like to update my billing address.”

“I can assist you with that. To start, may I have your account number?”

This is the customer service equivelant of small talk, same as talk radio callers starting with “thanks for taking my call”. These statements act as a buffer, setting the expectations for the upcoming interaction, and getting both parties on equal footing. Without them, we’re worse than machines, for even computers have handshakes.

As you go about your day, be conscious of the small communications that start up successful transations: a smile, eye contact, a simple “How are you?/Well Thank you.” These are simple tools here to make our every day easier.