Email Etiquette With Miss Manners

I didn't realize how lost I was in proper society until I read Judith Martin's  "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior." Turns out that the polite way to eat asparagus is with your fingers -- who knew?  Miss Manners knew, luckily. The book is brimming with information even more useful than asparagus etiquette, too, and we'd do well to take her advice into account when crafting our email programs.

Miss Manners concisely sums up her ideas about email when she tells us, "All right, hands off the Send button, everyone. There is the problem, right there: Send before Think. Not to mention Send before Spell Check." How embarrassing to imagine that she might be referring to some of the emails we've sent! Let's review some correspondence basics courtesy of Miss Manners:

Introductions and Greetings
"Watch out! Someone is coming at you with the clear intention of saying hello. Will you shoulder be thumped, or your fist be bumped? Will your hand be slapped High Five? Low Five?"

As Miss Manner spells out, there are a number of uncertain social conventions surrounding face-to-face introductions. Even in email welcomes, subtleties require attention. When a subscriber opts in to your email program or makes a first online purchase, it's your social duty to extend a prompt and friendly welcome message. Politeness aside, it's in your best interest to reach out to recipients who are already engaged with your brand.

When you meet someone, you're most impressed if you're given their name, some interesting (and hopefully charming) details about them, and an easy way to reach them in the future. Deliver a similar experience via email. Keep clear about your brand and name both in the "From" address and within the message itself.  Make the message short, sweet and welcoming -- plenty of time later to dig into details. Give subscribers one meaningful call-to-action that gets them back to your site right away, and provide all the information they need to get back in touch any time.

For more on warmest welcomes, check out the Email Experience Council Design Roundtable's new Welcome Message Checklist.

Thank-You Notes
"If you can't take the trouble to write out the words 'thank you' yourself, you do not deserve to have anything for which to thank anyone."

By nature, you can't handwrite your emails. But you can take care to thank your subscribers  for their interaction with your brand. Confirmation messages for any purchases that customers make are expected and necessary, and adding a thank-you to that message or a separate thank-you note inviting them back makes the deal even sweeter.

Think of a time when you have been unsure whether a relative received a birthday present or a couple received a wedding gift because they never thanked you. Make sure not to leave your customers wondering whether their order went through or when it will arrive, and add some grateful courtesy that will close their experiences with you on a warm note and encourage them to repeat it.  

A Note of Apology
"They admit they neglected a social duty...and report themselves as 'too embarrassed to face' their neglected friends. Miss Manners is not charmed.... What they are delineating is a plan to neglect the second social duty, namely that of apologizing for omitting the first one."

First, try to never make a mistake. If that fails, then follow Miss Manners' advice and send an apology message. Our new and exciting online features sometimes offer less-than-exciting customer experiences. While it's tempting just to quietly fix the problems and hope that customers (A) didn't notice, (B) will forget, or (C) will be doubly impressed by your functionality when they return, you'll be much more likely to actually see them return if you send prompt and polite apology messages.

I had been having much difficulty with, and it was nice when they sent a note of apology. The situation might have turned out even more pleasant if they'd thrown in a discount offer to get me shopping again. Netflix took it up a notch by sending one apology email, followed by an email explaining what they were doing to remedy their issues   and offering a special deal. We forgive you, Netflix!

Holiday Greetings
"Normally, Miss Manners is an enthusiastic supporter of the cheerful and the festive, with little patience for those who claim that they find merriment depressing.... But she worries about people who, bless their hearts, get so into the holiday spirit that they go around spreading fatigue and obligation.... They would do well to remember that there can be too much of a good thing."

Miss Manners is spot-on when she cautions against going overboard during the holidays. This year, when you're constructing holiday emails for each day between Halloween and New Year's, make sure you have your customers' needs in mind. Make them feel less overwhelmed by the season, not inundated with eager marketing. Create messages with a focus on actually easing their frenzied holiday shopping days, and you'll see higher success rates from grateful customers.

For more insights on holiday greetings, check out the just-released Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season.

As Miss Manners informs us, "There is no known correct way to eat pistachio nuts. Nevertheless, they are delicious." We can't get it right every time, of course -- there are always new things to learn as we go, and some instances in which we must try to figure things out for ourselves. Now go forth, and make Miss Manners proud. Or at least try



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