Does Anyone Read an Entire E-mail Anymore?

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I’m pretty frustrated with e-mail lately. I’ve run into countless times with co-workers and supposed customer service people, who either did not bother to read the entire e-mail I sent, or just completely ignored what I wrote in the first place.

To be fair, an e-mail I recently sent to the entire office contained 361 works and 1973 characters, not a novel. It contained very relevant information regarding an upcoming fundraiser and the requirements for participating. I sent the e-mail and had a great response. My co-workers seemed excited to participate in such a worthy cause.

Fast forward to the day before the taco lunch. No less than 10 people asked questions that were answered in the initial e-mail. I politely told them the answer was in the initial e-mail. That’s when several of them said, “Oh, I didn’t read it.” Or my favorite, “I deleted that without finishing reading it last week.”

While I wanted to scream, “I don’t write for my health, you know!” I refrained and just smiled and said next time you might want to read an e-mail I send, I don’t send office wide e-mails regularly.

The second instance of my frustration with people not reading an e-mail came from a well-known, mail order clothing company. I wrote a complaint after returning several items that not only looked nothing like what was pictured in the catalog, but didn’t match up to the provided sizing chart.

This is an excerpt from my initial e-mail: “I love most of your products and enjoys shopping in the stores, but I am finding the sizing to be ever-changing and hard to follow… Mostly, I am writing because this will be the third time I’ve had to return something because of a sizing issue and I find it very unfair that I am constantly charged $5.99 to send back something that will never fit. Please review your exchange policy.”

The response I received did not address my concerns at all.

“Thank you for your e-mail regarding your return postage. We are happy to assist you with your inquiry. We offer a pre-paid UPS return label to provide greater convenience for our customers. If you use the label and take it to UPS or drop it in a UPS box, you will not have to pay the return postage. Once your return is processed, a $5.99 charge will be deducted from your return or exchange if you used the label. You may also pay to return the merchandise using your own method such as Federal Express or United States Postal Service (USPS). Please note that return postage costs are not refunded by [COMPANY]. We assure you that you may return multiple orders within one package and use one pre-addressed UPS return label. To ensure accurate return entry, however, we do not recommend returning merchandise from more than one customer number.”

To which I replied, “This really didn’t answer my concern. Did you even read my comments?”

The second response I received credited my account the return fee and assured me my concerns were “forwarded to the proper department.” While better, the e-mail did not address my specific concerns and I just gave up.

I am concerned that in this information overload culture we’re creating that no one bothers to read or even worse read and comprehend any more. Didn’t we all learn how to do that in first grade?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution, but I’m open to suggestions.

2 thoughts on “Does Anyone Read an Entire E-mail Anymore?

  1. My current position requires me to write a lot of e-mail messages to internal and external clients. After reading your entire post, I have the following suggestions that might help you get a better response from your e-mail messages.

    1) Keep it short and simple. The most successful messages will be succinct and to-the-point. This means eliminating all those excess flowery words that people love to use. For example:

    “It has come to my attention that the billing on your account has not been paid since December of last year…” might be better if written, “Your account is now 180 days past due…”

    2) What’s the most important action you want the reader to take? That should be the focus of your message, and everything else in the message should direct the reader’s attention there.

    3) State the most important information in your first or second sentence. The average American will not read beyond that point, so you’re better served by cutting to the chase. If you want to insert lots of additional details, do so in subsequent paragraphs.

    4) Eliminate the additional details! Some people feel that it’s important to include as much detail as possible. This is the best way to get people to either delete your message or miss the point altogether. If your message is that complicated, consider referring the reader to a website where they can get more information.

    5) At the end of your message, reiterate the action you want your reader to take, e.g. Please let me know if you will be attending and what type of meal you would like.

    I sincerely hope you find these tips helpful. There will still be people who don’t read your messages, but keeping your messages short and direct will always be the most effective approach.

    1. Regina,
      Great points! I do follow most of them, but of course I could be better. At the time I wrote the post, I was particularly frustrated because the e-mail contained specific instructions and while about 80 percent of the office followed the directions, the other 20 percent that didn’t caused some unnecessary (in my view) headaches.
      I look forward to hearing you opinion on more topics.
      Have a great day!

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