E-mail response time expectations: “The faster the better.”

e-mail inbox managementEver since the advent of e-mail communications, there’s tended to be a feeling that correspondence sent via this mode of delivery is generally more “pressing” than correspondence delivered the old-fashioned way via postal mail.

After all, people don’t call postal mail “snail mail” for nothing.

At the same time, one would think that the proliferation of e-mail volumes and the today’s reality of groaning inboxes might be causing an adjustment of thinking.

Surely, most of the e-mail doesn’t need a quick response, does it?

If 80% or more of today’s e-mail is the equivalent of the junk mail that used to fill our inbox trays in the office in the “bad old days,” why wouldn’t we begin to think of e-mail in the same terms?

But a new survey of workers appears to throw cold water on that notion.

The survey of ~1,500 adults was conducted by MailTime, Inc., the developer of a smartphone e-mail app of the same name.  The survey found that a majority of respondents (~52%) expect a response to their work-related e-mail communiqués within 24 hours of hitting the send button.

Moreover, nearly 20% expect a response in 12 hours or less.

While the survey encompassed just users of MailTime’s app, the findings are likely not all that different for office workers as a whole.

Why is that?  I think it’s because, in recent years, the e-mail stream has become more “instant” rather than less.

Back in the early days of e-mail, I can recall that many of my work colleagues checked their e-mail inboxes three times during the day:  early in the morning, over the lunch hour, and as they were wrapping up their workday.

That’s all out the window now.  Most people have their e-mail alerts set for “instantaneous” or for every five or ten minutes.

With practices like that being so commonplace, it’s little wonder that people expect to hear a response in short order.

And if a response isn’t forthcoming, it’s only natural to think one of three things:

  • The e-mail never made it to the recipient’s inbox.
  • The recipient is on vacation, out sick, or otherwise indisposed.
  • The recipient is ignoring you.

I think there’s an additional dynamic at work, too.  In my years in business, I’ve seen e-mail evolve to becoming the “first line of contact” — even among colleagues who are situated in the same office.  Younger workers especially eschew personal interaction — and even phone contact — as modes of communication that are needlessly inefficient.

Of course, I can think of many instances where e-communications can actually contribute to inefficiencies, whereas a good, old-fashioned phone call would have cut to the chase so much more easily and quickly.

But even with that negative aspect, there’s no denying the value of having a record of communications, which e-mail automatically provides.

And here’s another thing:  MailTime estimates that around two-thirds of all e-mails are first opened on a smartphone or tablet device — so message deliverability is just as easy “on the go” as it is in the office.

It’s yet another reason why so many people expect that their communiqués will be opened and read quickly.

I agree that e-mails are easy and convenient to open and read on a mobile device.  But sometimes the response isn’t nearly so easy to generate without turning to a laptop or desktop computer.

So as a courtesy, I’ll acknowledge receipt of the message, but a “substantive” response may not be forthcoming until later.

… And then, when others don’t show a similar kind of courtesy, I think many of us notice!

Some larger companies with employees who are more geographically far-flung have actually adopted guidelines for e-mail etiquette, and they’ve applied them across every level of the company.

It seems like a good idea to get everyone’s expectations on the same page like that.

Incidentally, the preferred scenario for responding to personal e-mails isn’t really all that different from work-related expectations, even though personal communiqués aren’t usually as time-sensitive.  Respondents in the MailTime survey said that they expect to receive a response to a personal e-mail within 48 hours.  For nearly everyone, waiting a week is far too long.

Consumers complain about marketing-oriented e-mails — yet they still read them.

e-mail ambivalenceFace it, there are always going to be complaints about marketing-oriented e-mails. Just as in the “bad-old-days” of junk postal mail, consumers are conditioned to pass negative judgment on the volume of promotional-oriented e-mails that flood their inboxes.

True to form, according to a new study by global business, technology and marketing advisory firm Forrester Research, consumer attitudes about e-mail marketing are pretty negative.

Here’s what a sampling of U.S. respondents age 18 or older reported on the “minus” side of the ledger:

  • I delete most e-mail advertising without reading it: ~42% of respondents reported
  • I receive too many e-mail offers and promotions: ~39%
  • There’s nothing of interest: ~38%
  • I have unsubscribe from unsolicited lists: ~37%
  • I wonder how companies get my e-mail address: ~29%
  • It’s difficult to unsubscribe from e-lists: ~24%

There’s far less to show on the “plus” side:

  • It’s a great way to discover new products and promotions: ~24% of respondents reported
  • I read e-mails “just in case”: ~19%
  • I forward marketing e-mails to friends sometimes: ~12%
  • I purchase items advertised through e-mail: ~7%

I wasn’t surprised at all by these finds.

What’s interesting, however, is that the attitudes of consumers are actually trending a bit better than they were in previous Forrester field studies.

Specifically, respondents exhibited improved attitudes in the following areas:

  • Fewer respondents are deleting most marketing-oriented e-mail promos without reading them (~42% vs. ~44% in 2012 and ~59% in 2010).
  • Fewer respondents report that marketing e-mails offer “nothing of interest” (~38% vs. ~41% in 2012).

The percentages are also slightly better for the consumers today who consider e-mails as a good way to discover new products and promotions.  Additionally, the percentages are lower on complaints about receiving too many e-mail offers.

The bottom line on these results:  It looks as if consumers have come to terms with the pluses and minuses of e-mail marketing. As they once did with postal mail, they recognize the negative attributes as a fact of life — something that just “comes with the territory” for anyone who is online.

Click here to view summary highlights from the Forrester study, or here to purchase the full report.

Sometimes “permission slips” aren’t enough when it comes to e-mail deliverability.

Bounced-emails-undelivered-emailsIn case you’ve been wondering how much marketing e-mail actually reaches its intended targets, a recently released benchmark report from e-mail scoring and certification services provider Return Path has some answers. It finds that only about 75% of “permissioned” e-mails are actually making their way through.

That means one in every four e-mails are either hitting a spam or junk folder, or are being blocked by ISP-level filtering.

The report was based on analysis of data from Return Path’s Mailbox Monitor service, which tracks the delivery, filtering and blocking rates for more than 600,000 e-mail campaigns.

Interestingly, the delivery stats for business-to-business marketing e-mail aren’t much lower than for business-to-consumer e-mail. This was considered somewhat surprising because of company-level filtering systems like Postini, MessageLabs and Symantec that are installed at many large corporations. Presumably, they do a more thorough job of filtering e-correspondence.

The Return Path report also included a few cautionary notes for marketers:

 Many e-mailers believe that whatever gets deployed and doesn’t bounce must be reaching inboxes. But senders are notified only when the e-mail is a hard bounce – not if it has ended up in a spam or junk folder.

 Relying on rented e-mail files in the B-to-B world can be dangerous, as those files can be riddled with spam traps. Commercial entities are always on the search for new prospects and leads … but merging a good in-house list with a few of these bad boy rental lists can result in compromising the entire database.

 In the consumer sector, many marketers aren’t paying close enough attention to inbox placement rates. For example, data about Gmail shows that while many marketers are ostensibly achieving a 90%+ deliverability rate, fewer than one in five of those emails are actually being directed to the “priority” inboxes within Gmail as designated by the recipients. And you can bet that precious few of the other ~80% are getting any sort of attention at all from consumers.

More details about the Return Path report can be found here – well-worth checking out.