I’ve always made a habit of responding to email messages within a day (even if just to say I’m sorry but I’m busy right now and will try to get back to you next week–or something like that). While I don’t always live up to this standard, I believe it is common courtesy to acknowledge that someone is trying to communicate with me (unless they are simply trying to sell me something).
While I consider responding to emails in a timely fashion the professional thing to do, I recognize that some of the people I am trying to reach are overwhelmed and simply don’t have the bandwidth to respond.
Many lawyers make effective use of auto replies to deal with this problem. They set the expectations so the sender at least knows the message was received. (If you do use an auto reply, IMHO, a best practice is to give the sender the name of someone who they can reach out to if their matter is time sensitive. Some lawyers I know–generally more senior attorneys who are more old school– have an administrative assistant monitoring their account so that time sensitive matters are addressed quickly.)
Even knowing that many professionals are simply too busy to respond, it is hard not to take it personally when someone ignores you. But there are many reasons why emails you send may get no response (aside from the fact that the recipient is busy.)
For starters, email has been proliferating at an exponential rate since it became the dominant form of business communication in the late 1990s. The sheer volume of email that most professionals receive in a day is daunting and it is only growing. But there are many other reasons why you may not be getting a response when you email someone.
Spam filters seem to be getting a lot more aggressive in trying to weed out unwanted solicitations from our in-boxes. It is incumbent on all of us to check our spam folders daily. I’ve been seeing more and more legitimate email ending up there.
There is also “user error” at play. In the old days, when you sent a letter, you had a physical envelope that went in the mail. With email, however, failing to click send or cc: the right person means the message won’t get delivered and you may never know it.
In addition, sometimes people have things going on in there personal lives that make it hard for them to respond.
I’ve had every one of these things happen multiple times in the last few months. I sent a message and the recipient didn’t see it because they were too busy. I’ve had recipients who saw a message I sent and forgot to get back to me because they were involved in too many things and my message moved down the queue. Many messages I’ve sent have landed in spam folders. Some of my recipients thought they had hit send but didn’t or replied to the person I wanted them to meet but forgot to cc me. I’ve sent email to people who have had a death in their family (and never set up an auto reply).
So what is the best way to address these challenges? Here is my list:
- If you don’t get a response, don’t be afraid to send a follow up email asking if the person received your first message.
- If the follow up gets no response, try texting or calling.
- Unless your matter is time sensitive, wait a few days between follow ups so you don’t appear too aggressive.
Most of the time when I do this, the person on the other end apologizes. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve received four messages from lawyers who were either embarrassed that they hadn’t responded, thankful that I told them to check their spam folder, or apologetic for their own “user error”.
If you have any questions about how you can make your own communications more effective, particularly if they are more in the realm of marketing communications, please email me. I check my spam folder daily!