The decency of replying to e-mails

E-mails are the most common way for people to communicate nowadays, and it offers a way to reply when you have time. You can get instant feedback, attach files etc to give a person all necessary info. On top of that, you can easily see when e-mails arrived or were sent, and make a decision for your actions based on that.

So, something that really annoys me is when I don’t get a reply at all to e-mails I send. I understand that people are usually extremely busy, and I definitely don’t expect a reply within five minutes. But I think that people should really be able to reply within a week or so; not doing so is disrespectful, and bad business practice if that’s the context. Some of the big names, be it a company or a famous blogger, are pretty good at replying, but some are really terrible.

My worst example is a job I applied to a couple of years ago. Five months later I got my first reply…

Some people get a lot of e-mails, and I sympathize with that. But I still think that a week is a long amount of time to produce something back. Not every reply has to be a novel; it can be a sentence or two, acknowledging that they got the e-mail and answering the question or promising to get back. For the ones that don’t think that they don’t have time for this, set up a polite auto-reply explaining the situation and if/when you will get back. Yes, this will let spammers know that the e-mail address is valid, but still, this mostly applies to large organizations and well-known names where the e-mail address is publicly available anyway.

People keep arguing about top-posting, if one should send HTML email and so on. I don’t care. Just give me and others a reply and most of us are fine.

Posted in General |

26 Comments

  • Marco says:

    It's annoying indeed. But then again, sometimes I'm guilty of this as well. It happens quite often that you receive a mail, read it, think something like 'Ah yes, I'll reply to that tonight…' and have it flooded with new email after that.

    I know it's not nice towards those who send the mail but it does happen. We're all human, including the big names in the blogosphere.

    Anyway, I tend to get annoyed by not getting a reply when I email someone but honestly I shouldn't be as long as I'm sometimes guilty of not replying as well.

    Sending another (friendly reminder) mail often helps!

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    Robert, I know just what you talk about!

    Over the years there has been so many reasons to mistrust the reliability of a sent e-mail that I just don't trust that my mails have arrived until I receive an answer.

    Some weeks ago I sent a (critical) e-mail to the editor-in-cheif of a popular swedish internet related magazine. Even though I have sent two reminders I still (3 weeks later) haven't received any reply >:(

  • Maarten Leewis says:

    I understand it's very annoying. I'm sometimes told that i never answer any of my e-mail. That usually is for one simple reason. The way they wrote their mail doesn't imply they are waiting for an answer, neither do they ask for something. Sometimes it's just the way people write their e-mails. Adding a simple ? somewhere in the message ussually helps.

  • Bjarne says:

    I also tend to get annoyed when not recieving a reply when I'm expecting one, but I also fail to reply sometimes… I agree with Maarten, sometimes it's not that obvious that a reply is wanted.

    On the other hand, I sometimes wish I'd know if my reciever reallly have read my email. But, automated "I have read your mail" replys are really annoying too… so I guess I'd just better shut up now and reply to some emails :)

  • Jules says:

    Apparently, within the government I work for, there is a crew of people who call government phones to ensure that either the person picks up within 3 rings or has an up-to-date "away from my desk" message: people who don't comply are given a slap on the wrist. They should do the same for email because, even within the ministry I work for, there are people I contact who don't reply to email and you must call them to get any response from them.

    There also is no real policy to handle email addresses of people who leave this organization. To the best of my knowledge, my current work term ends March 31 and although the job I am doing will be continued by someone else, no one will look after my emails. When <abbr title="Human Remains, er, I mean, Human Resources">HR</abbr> decided I needed a vacation and let me go for two months, after I returned, I checked my email and learned that someone had placed an order for some publications that hadn't been sent out. She was quite upset when I returned her messages so we provided them to her at no cost.

    Although this doesn't directly address the issue you raised Robert, it is an example of how some people/organizations do not recognize the importance of email and that they don't handle vacancies very well.

  • Mats says:

    Robert,

    I feel a bit ashamed, but after reading this post I found an unread email from the 10th of October in my inbox, in which you ask me if I want to join you for lunch.

    Sorry…

  • will says:

    You mean I am supposed to respond to these things?

  • Thame says:

    That really bothers me too. I'm a member of the Assembly (Student Committee kinda thing) at my University and sent an email to the speaker about the scheduling. It took 2 weeks and twelve variations of the e-mail to finally elicit a pathetic response, and by that time it was already too late and I had missed the meeting :(

    E-mail is obviously becoming a primary mode of communication (if not THE primary mode, especially in universities) and I totally agree with you :D

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks for sharing!

    I agree that it should be clear in the e-mail mesage that if you want a reply; you formulate it as a question and use a question mark.

    And, as noted above, often you just want to know that the e-mail has been read, but the options offered on the market right now aren't really attractive.

  • Do you have a particularly harsh spam filter, Rob? Hint ;)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Steve,

    Huh? What?

    Have I missed anything from you? :-)

  • Jens Meiert says:

    Amen, Robert – if I had to write on this, too, our posts would be almost identical (though, please do not play down top-posting…) ;)

    Depending on context, sometimes not replying might be a simple accident (I currently receive around 6k e-mails per month, with lots of spam, of course, so I just cannot guarantee that I answer all e-mails directly sent to me which I usually try to achieve). In business context, not replying can almost always be considered unprofessional. Not that good PR, huh.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jens,

    Good to see that we're on the same page. :-)

  • Jules says:

    Along the same lines, I don't like it when I post a question in a blog comment, directed at the author of the article that is on-topic with the article. If I had just emailed the author, the question and answer would have become private and no public discussion of either would be possible.

  • Larry Simons says:

    Oh how I agree. It is just so RUDE and IGNORANT of people to just not bother to reply when you write to them. Large multinational corporations are among the worst offenders, but the champion's medal has to go to the world of showbusiness, especially the so called "artists' agents".

    Does anyone know of a website where people and companies who have such poor manners can be publicly named and shamed? Let me start the ball rolling: I have written to <a>CINDY OSBRINK of THE OSBRINK AGENCY *twice* this year (on July 5th 2005 and again on November 22nd 2005) enquiring about a particular actress she is alleged to represent, and am still waiting for replies. Now it could be that the information (obtained from other websites) that she represents the actress in question is inaccurate or out of date, but would it KILL her to drop me a brief reply telling me so?

    I also wrote to SALTON APPLIANCES (1985) CORP. a week ago via the "contact" page fo their website (I do so hate those contact "forms", why the hell can't they just give us a proper email address to write to, so we can keep a copy of what we have said to them?) enquiring about availability of one of their products, and apparently they can't even been bothered to reply to that! What's the matter with them, don't they want my business?

    Larry Simons

    London, UK

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jules,

    Well, it depends on the question, the need to follow-up etc. However, I do get your point.

    Larry,

    I share your frustration… :-)

  • Larry Simons says:

    I'm thinking of starting up a website on which people can publicly name and shame companies and organisations that are so f***ing ignorant that they can't even be bothered to reply to messages and enquiries by posting details of their correspondence that has just been ignored… can you think of an appropriate name for it?

  • Jules says:

    Robert, just in case you thought I was pointing a finger at you: no, it wasn't you.

    I guess I don't see blogs as just one-way conversations where the author makes a statement and then leaves it for others to chat about. I see blogs as an author-initiated spark that results in a discussion between the author and commenters. For that reason, I left a relevant question on someone's blog and have yet to see a response (<abbr title="circa">ca.</abbr> 4 weeks ago).

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Larry,

    Well…

    While I totally understand the frustration, I'm not sure that such a web site would do any good, but rather just fuel a lot of arguments, maybe legal troubles etc.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jules,

    No, no, I didn't think that. I just meant that there are sitatuations, like you say, when a comment is good for the discussion or the group reading, and sometimes when an e-mail should have been sent instead.

  • Larry Simons says:

    I think it could well do a lot of good if the site became big enough: the bad publicity, or fear of it, might have the effect of discouraging the rudeness we have been talking about. As for "legal troubles", nobody can penalise me for telling the truth, which is all I intend to do.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Larry,

    Well, maybe…

    Personally, I'm just not sure that it would make them become better, but instead just wanting to fight.

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