How to get faster email responses
My instructor called it “voicejail” 15 years ago.
To this day, I generally prefer email over voicemail because I can process information more efficiently.
The problem is that I receive lots of email. We all do.
It’s a challenge when written communication lacks clarity or requires too much effort to understand, because it puts a burden on the reader. Think about the infamous "Thoughts?" email… it takes the sender only seconds to write, but costs the recipient minutes to think of a decent response.
It’s not just the recipient who’s responsible for timely responses; it’s also the sender.
It’s our duty to respond to customers quickly—even if their question isn't initially clear—but when it comes to our co-workers, managers, and friends, it’s in our power to get faster response times.
Several years ago, I needed to transport a table my wife found online, so I sent my father a message. The conversation went something like this:
- “Can I borrow your truck?”
- After a couple hours, he says “Sure, when?”
- “This Saturday”
- The next day, he writes “What time?”
- Eventually, he responds “OK”
It took a couple days before I was able to tell the seller when I could pick up the table. It was sold to another buyer.
If I had asked my father, “Can I borrow your truck for 2 hours this Saturday at 11am to pick up a table?” I’d probably be crafting this post on that beautiful, vintage table with a hot cup of chamomile tea.
Ambiguity and lack of information cause slower responses.
Email overload is a challenge, but we can mitigate it by doing more work up front when sending a message. Attack the challenge by being clear, specific, and thorough. You’ll minimize the number of messages in the communication thread and close the loop faster. You’ll save time in the long run.
Shooting off quick emails to save time in the short term might end up costing you in the long run.
How to get faster email responses
The next time you send an email to someone, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, “how can I compose my message in a way that reduces the time and effort needed to respond?”
4 tips for getting faster responses:
1. Don't overcommunicate.
Ideally keep your email short, but if you need to include context to support your message, make it concise. Include why the recipient should care, but exclude details that aren't directly relevant. Know whether your audience prefer details or the big picture. Stick to your point and be economical with your words.
2. Style and presentation matter.
Pay attention to the rhythm of your text. For example, don't put long sentences next to each other. Shorter sentences are easier to read. Avoid tall paragraphs and use line breaks for scanability. If your email is long, bold the key words to capture attention.
3. Make sure your question is specific.
Specificity sticks, generality blurs. "What do you think?" is vague. Instead, ask "what's one thing you'd like to see improved on the new sales page?" Isolate your questions so it stands out. Or, provide a list of 3 options to choose from. For example, "which option below do you prefer?" Replying "Option A" is easy for the recipient.
Bonus: don't bundle polarizing questions. For example, asking "are you feeling better?" and "do you still feel sick?" at the same time is confusing because it
4. Lead with your premise.
In military communications, the bottom line up front style is effective for capturing attention and helping readers make a decision whether to continue reading. Consider putting your main point directly in the subject. After all, if your email isn't opened, the body won't be read.
Remember, it’s not just the recipient who’s responsible for timely responses; it’s also the sender.