Newton's Law of Email

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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Newton's Law of Email

Newton's Third Law of Physics, as you well know, states that for every e-mail, there is an equal and opposite e-mail. And we live in the parallel universe where we get those equal and opposite e-mails.

We also get to hear what's really on politicians' minds when they're talking, we know how often girls actually wash their hair and we always get good parking places in midtown Manhattan. It's nice, yeah, but we wish we could get a decent cup of coffee from the Starbucks here, because Newton's Fourth Law of Physics holds that for every cup of good coffee, there is an equal and opposite cup of abject swill.

We know you want to provide good customer service via e-mail, so you tell customers when they can expect a response -- and you keep to that schedule. You actually respond when you say you will. This is because you know that response time depends a great deal on how quickly your automated routing gets the appropriate e-mail to the appropriate respondent in your organization.

You never write in all caps, you have a punchy, relevant subject line, and you even include the recipient's name in the response. Your agents have access to all the customer information they need to write an intelligent, useful response, they understand what the customer's talking about and have the reporting and analysis capability to track trends.

You've analyzed the most common customer queries and have developed responses with highly effective habits. You've done such a good job with your FAQ that your agents are only getting the complicated questions, but because you've prepped your agents so well they don't have any trouble.

Remember that confirmation e-mail you sent last week to Elmer Schlumpkin of Rusty Gulch, New Jersey, confirming shipment of his order of 12 anvils? My, it was perfect:

From: Acme Anvils

To: Elmer Schlumpkin

Subject line: Your March 13 Order Has Shipped.

Body: Thank you for ordering with Acme Anvils. We'd like to let you know that your order has shipped, and should be at your home within five business days.

Tracking number: ES74759AM

To follow the progress of your order, click the following link: www.acmeanvils/shipping/c7tte/track/eschlumpkin/


Acme Anvils Customer Service

It wasn't mistaken for spam, it presented your company well and it kept Elmer from calling in. Your company name appeared clearly in the return field, the subject line was clearly related to Elmer's specific transaction and the most important information appeared first in the body of the e-mail.

It provided a tracking number, even though you and I know nobody ever actually uses that, just like nobody ever uses fire extinguishers, but they're comforting to have around. It deep-linked to a specific place in the site instead of to the general page, was snappy, brisk and without a wasted word -- he could glance over it and see exactly what it was in 2.3 seconds.

Well done. Frame that e-mail and use it as a textbook. Want to see the one we got here -- three and a half weeks later?

From: tammy barkin


Subject line: Imprtant information for YOU!

Body: hello and THANK YOU SO MUCH for your recint transaction with our company XOXOXOXO!!!!!

We want to take this opportunity to inform you that we would like to tell you how much we apreciate your business, and that we strive too provide the best customer service posible. If your most recently communication email which you sent to us containteda question PLEASE CHECK THE WEBSITE for the answer on the faq page.

Let us tell you a little about the compnay- we have been in business sine 2008 and we really hope to give you the best possible anvils and the best customer serveice anywhere!!!!! We use only the finest metal and productin techniques, and we offer a full garantee that youll really like our products.

YOUR BUSINESS IS VERY IMPORTANT TO US, and pleasecheck the site to see when you can expect your order to be sent out. please check your account on the site to see when it is expected to arrive depending on the shipping option you checked J

If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to call us at 1-800-555-1212.


The Acme Anvils Team

Whew! What an absolutely pristine beauty! It manages to get pretty much everything wrong. Shall we count the ways?

You have no clue who it's from. The company name, Acme Anvils, does not appear either in the return name or e-mail, all that appears is the customer service rep's name -- why should the customer have any clue who that is? -- and the return domain of the outsourced customer service provider.

The recipient's name does not appear in the recipient line. Okay, it's a bit tougher to get that right, but it's great if you do.

The subject line. Besides the grammatical improprieties -- and let me tell you, few things, few things drop a company's image faster than sloppy grammar. Do yourself a favor, the next time you're in McDonald's hire a couple of the English majors working in the back to write your canned e-mails. Not only that, it could just as easily have been sent by someone wanting Elmer to buy cheap ViJaGGAra, provide his personal banking numbers for a Nigerian Deputy Undersecretary For Diamond Mining & Ice Cream or show him how to make $100,000 a year watching TV for Facebook.

The body. Roll up your sleeves here:

Spelling mistakes. So easy to correct, so hard to overcome.

No important information is conveyed. Elmer's life or knowledge of the status of his transaction is improved not a whit upon receipt of this e-mail.

Much of Elmer's time is wasted up top. He does not want to be thanked beyond a quick, professional "Thank you for ordering with Acme Anvils." He does not care how long the company has been in business, he wants to know when he's going to see his anvils on his front porch.

A wise man once said there are probably six or seven times in one's life when using an exclamation point is appropriate. He was correct. He might have also added Miss Manners' dictum that no respectable job requires one to simulate emotions or add 11-year old girl flourishes to e-mails.

There is no specific information provided to Elmer for checking the status of his order, no confirmation of the status of his shipment, only an aloof, airy "check the site."

The only actionable information in the entire e-mail, assuming Elmer didn't drown in the swamp on his way to it, is a phone number at the end. As the only reason for the existence of customer service e-mails at all is to prevent people from calling in, the only possible effect this e-mail can have is to negate any cost benefit the company might have received.

Elmer might get his anvils. He might get them on time. He might get twelve baskets of feathers for all he knows from this e-mail.

Over here we'll get a pound of feathers, but at least that's not as heavy as a pound of iron. Not here, anyway.

Hey -- wanna know what Dennis Kucinich was really thinking?

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