It is amazing to find that in this day and age some real estate companies have still not realized how important their email communications are. Many agents send email replies late or not at all or send replies that do not actually answer the questions you asked. If your company is able to deal professionally with email, this will provide your company with that all-important competitive edge. We are going to discuss the main etiquette rules and provide advice on how principals can ensure that they are implemented.
Why do you need email etiquette?
A company needs to implement etiquette rules for the following three reasons:
- Professionalism: by using proper email language you will convey a professional image.
- Efficiency: emails that get to the point are much more effective than poorly worded emails.
- Protection from liability: agents’ awareness of email risks will be protected from costly lawsuits.
Most important email etiquette tips:
- Be concise and to the point.
Do not make an e-mail longer than it needs to be. Remember that reading an e-mail is harder than reading printed communications and a long e-mail can be very discouraging to read.
- Answer all questions and pre-empt further questions.
An email reply must answer all questions, and pre-empt further questions – If you do not answer all the questions in the original email, you will receive further e-mails regarding the unanswered questions, which will not only waste your time and the client’s time but also cause considerable frustration. Moreover, if you are able to pre-empt relevant questions, your client will be grateful and impressed with your efficient and thoughtful customer service.
- Use proper spelling, grammar & punctuation.
This is not only important because improper spelling, grammar and punctuation give a bad impression of your agency, it is also important for conveying the message properly. E-mails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes even change the meaning of the text. And, if your program has a spell checking option, why not use it?
- Make it personal.
Not only should the e-mail be personally addressed, but it should also include personal i.e. client content. For this reason, auto-replies are usually not very effective. However, templates can be used effectively in this way.
- Use templates for frequently used responses.
Some questions/emails you get over and over again, such as standard email instruction, copy of the offer to purchase to buyers and sellers and the transfer process. Save these texts as response templates and paste these into your message when you need them. You can save your templates in a Word document or use pre-formatted emails. Even better is a tool such as ReplyMate for Outlook (which allows you to use 10 templates for free).
- Answer swiftly.
Clients send a request via e-mail because they wish to have more information on a property. Therefore, each e-mail should be replied to within at least 24 hours, and preferably within the same working day. If the email is complicated, just send an email back saying that you have received it and that you will get back to them. This will put the customer’s mind at rest and usually customers will then be very patient!
- Do not attach unnecessary files.
By sending large attachments you can annoy clients and even bring down their e-mail system. Wherever possible try to compress attachments and only send attachments when they are productive. Moreover, you need to have a good virus scanner in place since your clients will not be very happy if you send them documents full of viruses!
- Use proper structure & layout.
Since reading from a screen is more difficult than reading from a paper, the structure and layout is very important for e-mail messages. Use short paragraphs and blank lines between each paragraph. When making points, number them or mark each point as separate to keep the overview.
- Do not overuse the high priority option.
We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. If you overuse the high priority option, it will lose its function when you really need it. Moreover, even if a mail has high priority, your message will come across as slightly aggressive if you flag it as ‘high priority’.
- Do not write in CAPITALS.
IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying and might trigger an unwanted response in the form of a flame mail. Therefore, try not to send any email text in capitals.
- Don’t leave out the message thread.
When you reply to an email, you must include the original mail in your reply, in other words, click ‘Reply’, instead of ‘New Mail’. Some people say that you must remove the earlier message since this has already been sent and is therefore unnecessary. If you receive many emails you obviously cannot remember each individual email. This means that a ‘thread less email’ will not provide enough information and you will have to spend a frustratingly long time to find out the context of the email in order to deal with it. Leaving the thread might take a fraction longer in download time, but it will save the recipient much more time and frustration in looking for the related emails in their inbox!
- Add disclaimers to your emails.
It is important to add disclaimers to your internal and external mails since this can help protect your agency from liability. Consider the following scenario: an agent accidentally forwards a virus to a customer by email. The customer decides to sue the agency for damages. If you add a disclaimer at the bottom of every external mail, saying that the recipient must check each email for viruses and that it cannot be held liable for any transmitted viruses, this will surely be of help to you in court.
- Read the email before you send it.
A lot of people don’t bother to read an email before they send it out, as can be seen from the many spelling and grammar mistakes contained in emails. Apart from this, reading your email through the eyes of the recipient will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments.
- Do not overuse Reply to All.
Only use Reply to All if you really need your message to be seen by each person who received the original message.
- Mailings > use the Bcc: field or do a mail merge.
When sending an email mailing, some people place all the email addresses in the To: field. There are two drawbacks to this practice: (1) the recipient knows that you have sent the same message to a large number of recipients, and (2) you are publicizing someone else’s email address without their permission. One way to get around this is to place all addresses in the Bcc: field. However, the recipient will only see the address from the To: field in their email, so if this was empty, the To field will be blank and this might look like spamming. You could include the mailing list email address in the To: field, or even better if you have Microsoft Outlook and Word you can do a mail merge and create one message for each recipient. A mail merge also allows you to use fields in the message so that you can for instance address each recipient personally. For more information on how to do a Word mail merge, consult the Help in Word.
- Take care with abbreviations and emoticons.
In business emails, try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of the meanings of the abbreviations and in business emails, these are generally not appropriate. The same goes for emoticons, such as the smiley :-). If you are not sure whether your recipient knows what it means, it is better not to use it.
- Don’t use e-mail as an excuse to avoid personal contact.
Don’t forget the value of face-to-face or even voice-to-voice communication. E-mail communication isn’t appropriate when sending confusing or emotional messages. Think of the times you’ve heard someone in the office indignantly say, “Well, I sent you an e-mail.” If you have a problem with someone, speak with that person directly. Don’t use e-mail to avoid an uncomfortable situation or to cover up a mistake.
- Use the subject field to indicate content and purpose.
Don’t just say, “Hi!” or “From Laura.” Agree on acronyms to use that quickly identify actions. For example, your team could use <AR> to mean “Action Required” or <MSR> for the Monthly Status Report. It’s also a good practice to include the word “Long” in the subject field, if necessary so that the recipient knows that the message will take time to read.
- Use a signature that includes contact information.
To ensure that people know who you are, include a signature that has your contact information, including your mailing address, Web site, and phone numbers.
- Summarize long discussions.
Scrolling through pages of replies to understand a discussion is annoying. Instead of continuing to forward a message string, take a minute to summarize it for your reader. You could even highlight or quote the relevant passage, then include your response. Some words of caution:
Phone Etiquette: Vocal Skills
Voice reflects attitude. Even if the words are correct and intended to be polite, the tone could imply the opposite. Voice is made up of five distinct elements: tone, inflection, pitch, rate and volume. Your voice contains specific percentages of each element that makes it uniquely yours. However, there is a best practice range within which your voice sounds confident and most importantly professional.
- The tone is the most important vocal skill in great telephone etiquette. Tone expresses your overall attitude and lets the person you are communicating with the know-how you feel about them.
- Inflection refers to the way you highlight certain words and phrases. When used well, a representative can use inflection to stress the importance of certain words and keep the caller engaged and on track.
- Pitch refers to how high or low your voice sounds. Generally higher-pitched voices sound abrasive, while low deeper voices tend to be more soothing.
- The rate refers to the speed and cadence of your voice. Remember to speak slowly and clearly, and/or adjust your rate to match the customers.
- Volume refers to how soft or loud you speak. Volume is the easiest element to control. However, many people are unaware that they speak too softly or too loudly and will need to be coached to use an appropriate level when taking a call.
Telephone Etiquette Guidelines
Telephone etiquette can easily be addressed. Use the tips below to remind agents on how to provide good phone etiquette:
- Use formal greetings. When answering the call use a formal greeting and clearly state your name. It is considered best practice to use sir or ma’am to address customer’s if names are unknown.
- Speak clearly. Taking the time to speak clearly and in a positive, professional tone will put the caller at ease.
- Hear &understand. Agents must listen carefully to customers and let them finish their thoughts without interrupting. Ask questions that clarify information and confirm that everyone is on the same page before moving forward.
- No food or beverages. This may seem like common sense, –but refrain from consuming food or beverages while taking a call. The last thing your customers want to hear is slurping and crunching.
- Poor language. Do not use slang words or Poor Language. Respond clearly with “yes” or “no” when speaking. Never use swear words.
- Addressing a client. Address the Client Properly by his or her title. (i.e. Good morning Mr Brown, Good afternoon Ms Sanders). Never address an unfamiliar caller by his or her first name.
Good Phone Etiquette Increases Customer Satisfaction
Telephone etiquette is one of the key components to customer satisfaction. Customer service representatives need to be well versed in product or service knowledge and possess the skills to positively share that information with customers. Representatives who do not have good phone etiquette are a liability and will negatively impact sales and customer retention. However, representatives who have good phone etiquette will decrease escalations, increases sales and improve customer satisfaction.
Making a call
Always identify yourself properly. When calling a client, whether in person or when leaving a message, always identify yourself properly by providing your name, company name and contact telephone number. For example, “Good afternoon Mr Brown, this is Ms Brown from Officeskills.org. My telephone number is 408-555-1212.”
Avoid leaving long-winded messages. Remember, someone has to listen to your message, write it down and then act upon it. Your message may be just one of many messages that need to be handled. It is often a good habit to write down or type out your message in advance. Keep it brief and to the point.