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Improving E-Mail Communications

Traditionally, IT teams has been good at jumping on requests, especially for emergency problems, and working on them immediately. Unfortunately, they haven’t always been so strong at communicating what’s happening.

There are several areas we can improve on communications (especially in email) within the team and externally.  Clear and complete e-mail communications are key to providing a high level of customer service and ensuring issues are fully dealt with in an appropriate timeline.

I’m not going to go into the standards of email etiquette here – you all know to be professional, clear and concise in your email.  Instead, let’s focus on when we communicate and what we include in those communications.

1.  When a problem / request is received, acknowledge receipt and set expectations

To some extent, this is automatically done by a help desk system – it acknowledges receipt and steps you through the workflow.  If you’re not working in a help desk system, it’s important that requests don’t seem to go into a black hole.  Setting expectations is key to reducing pressure, even with critical tasks.

When the requester knows you’ll look into their problem immediately, or in an hour, or tomorrow, they can feel more confident that they know what’s happening.  If you don’t know the priority, ask. If the timeline isn’t appropriate, they can also respond and let you know.

Example: Ben, I see you’re having a problem with System XYZ.  I’m in the middle of another task right now, but will look at your problem within an hour.  I expect it to be straightforward and should have it solved soon after.

2. Provide status updates

There’s nothing worse than being in the dark when there’s a burning problem on your plate.

Once you’ve set expectations with the client, if you’re not going to make those expectations, it’s very important to let the requester know.  If the estimated hour to fix the problem becomes 4, or your start time doesn’t come around as expected, re-set the requester’s expectations.

Example: I’m sorry Ben, I’ve been tied up with <problem x> and will be looking at your problem at 11 AM instead of 10 AM.  If this is going to be a problem, please let me know.

3. When the problem is solved, explain

When a problem is solved, it’s often not enough to tell people “it’s fixed”.  We’ve several issues in the past few days where the original requester has come back to ask “what happened”.  This is especially common when dealing with client-facing or downtime issues.

Short version, instead of sending an email like “All fixed”, which is bound to have someone shake their head and respond with “what was wrong?”, try to include the following:

  1. A simple explanation of the problem, in plain English (not techie).
  2. Let them know the problem has been solved, or added to a project, or what the status is
  3. If the fix is permanent or temporary

Example: Ben, I’ve completed investigating your issue.  The problem was that <server xyz> had a software issue while processing the request.  This bug has been permanently fixed by making a change to the script involved and should not happen again.


4. Always ask if there is anything more

This isn’t like “would you like fries with that?” and doesn’t have to be a formal “Is there anything else I can help you with?”.  Instead, just remember that we’re here to help and make sure there’s nothing else we need to do.

Formal example: If you have any further issues with this, or any other problem, please email help desk as …..
Casual example: If you have any other problems, just let me know.

Full Example

Email from Ben:

“System XYZ broke and the file transfer failed!”

Email to Ben:

“Ben,

Thank you for letting me know about the problem with System XYZ.  I’m just finishing off another issue and will look at it in about 30 minutes.

– Kevin”

… 60 minutes later …

Email to Ben:

“Ben,

Troubleshooting the issue with System XYZ is taking longer than I expected.  I am continuing to work on it and should be able to give you an update with an hour.

– Kevin”

Email to Ben:

“Ben,

I’ve solved the issue with System XYZ.  The problem was due to a bug in our transfer script.   I’ve fixed this issue and it should not recur.  Your file transfers have been completed and were successful.

If you have any other problems, please let me know.

–          Kevin”

Email from Ben:

“Kevin,

Thank you! (not said – Kevin – you’re my hero!)”

Summary

There is always room for improvement when it comes to communications.  Taking some of the steps above will help make communications more complete and reduce the stress/pressure around issues.  Doing this will also improve relationships with key people within your company and ensure they know you’re helping them in every way possible.

One Response to “Improving E-Mail Communications”

  1. Tweets that mention K&A IT Leadership and Tech Blog » Blog Archive » Improving E-Mail Communications -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Judy Bishop and Shawnee Love, Mike Knapp. Mike Knapp said: Blog Post: Why do we all fall down on email communications? Some pointers to improve email communications: http://bit.ly/90bmmo […]

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