CREW Network – News You Can Use

Always Connected: Are We On Communications Overload?


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By Marcia Charney
Counsel – Commercial Division
Continental TitleCompany
KC CREW Member

Marcia Charney is Commercial Division Counsel for Continental Title Company. As a practicing attorney, she has specialized in commercial real estate for more than 27 years. Marcia is the immediate Past President of KC CREW and a member of the CREW Network Editorial Advisory Committee. 

Do you ever get that call from your client or customer requesting a response to an email which you haven’t even received yet? The call that was made as soon as the client hit the “send” button?

In many ways, technology advancements have made our ability to communicate easier and quicker, but those same advances sometimes create unrealistic expectations about how quickly and thoroughly we can respond.

With the use of email and mobile devices, we can all be kept “in the loop,” but, do we really want or need constant communications from or with everyone in our address book?

The increased use of technology has changed clients’ expectations regarding how fast they will get a response. CREW Denver member Stacia Delaney, shareholder, Berenbaum Weinshienk PC, has observed a trend among her clients who believe that because emails are sent instantaneously, a response should be given instantaneously. She emphasized that it is important to manage those expectations.

Managing clients’ expectations does not necessarily mean that you must give an instant response or act instantly to an email request. To assuage the client until she has an opportunity to fully consider the request, CREW Cleveland member Laura Hengle, marketing communications manager with Bock & Clark, makes it a practice to acknowledge receipt of emails and let the client know that she appreciates their request. “A prompt acknowledgment of receipt of an email request is more appreciated than a long silence before responding to the email,” said Hengle. This simple action lets the client know that their request is important even if you are not yet in a position to act on the request. “Besides, the sender then has confirmation that the email was received, which confirmation you used to get immediately when phone calls were the preferred method of communication,” added Hengle.

Delaney often calls her clients after she receives an email to let them know what she needs to do next in order to provide the clients with a well thought-out response and how long it may take her to respond. She added that it is not always in the best interest of the client to provide an immediate response and risk a mistake.

CREW Houston member, Elizabeth York, general counsel with The Johnson Development Corporation, tries to reply to emails promptly with the inquiry of “when do you need a response?” Based upon the answer, she can prioritize her work flow.

June Smith, owner-manager of Pangea Title Services, LLC and CREW Atlanta member, reports that she tries to talk to the parties involved in the transaction before she starts sending them emails in order to get a sense of with whom she is dealing. “You can’t always tell how someone is receiving your email. They might read into it a tone that I didn’t intend,” said Smith. Emails “sometimes come across as more harsh than if you talked to the person,” stated CREW Memphis member Sandy Marshall, senior tax director, BDO USA, LLP.

Although we all communicate by email, the frequency of telephone or face-to-face contact may be dictated by the generation in which you fall. The more seasoned commercial real estate professionals still prefer some voice or face-to-face contact rather than relying exclusively on email communications. “I still try to pick up the phone as often as I can. I’ve noticed that the younger people deal with everything by sending emails. However, I don’t want to lose the one-on-one touch. It’s important to have direct contact with your client,” said Marshall. She believes that sending emails back and forth often is less efficient than just picking up the phone and discussing a matter.

“We miss the value of talking with each other. I worry about the kids big time. With communications by Facebook postings, email and text messages, they don’t even talk with each other. What happens when they go to fill out a job application and can’t even write a full sentence?” asked Kathy Cunningham, CREW Greater Akron member and property manager with Cascade Plaza Associates LLC.

CREW Network members fight the battle of being accessible to their clients around the clock seven days a week. “We’ve gotten where we feel guilty if we’re not staring at our BlackBerrys or iPhones 24/7. We never have down time anymore. I have to force myself to put my phone away for an hour if I have something to do in the evening,” said Cunningham.

Jan Fiola, senior real estate manager with Caribou Coffee Company and CREW Chicago member, observed that although we can be reached at all times of the day or night, the use of email communication allows us to expand our days and make us more efficient. “I can still do work before I go to bed, and this allows me some flexibility during the day,” said Fiola. Marilyn Nix, senior vice president, Compass Commercial, LLC and CREW Detroit member, agrees that technology provides her with more flexibility to work on her own schedule and from any location. Although so many of the communication tools can be accessed remotely from almost anywhere, Nix contends that the key to successfully managing this freedom is to discipline yourself to set aside your communication devices.

MNCREW member Debra Barnes, associate vice president with HGA Architects & Engineers, reports that if her clients do not get an instant response to an email, they will call her. If she doesn’t answer the phone, the clients send her a text message. She said that her clients know how to reach her, but that also gives her the flexibility to be away from her desk and not miss important business communications.

Management of email involves strategy and work. York uses follow up flags and sets reminders so that if she doesn’t receive a response to an email she sent, she can follow up. When she reads an email on a mobile device, she marks it as “unread” so that she does not overlook the email when she returns to the office and can act on it appropriately.

Marshall deals with her emails the first thing in the morning for about an hour. She then checks them again at the end of the day to see if there is any critical matter that must be dealt with that day. However, not all CREW Network members can limit their checking of email to specified times of the day. “I try to react immediately as soon as I get an email,” said Fiola. She acknowledges that this can be distracting and may make her more unproductive. For instance, she said, being on a conference call and checking emails diverts attention from the conference call conversation.

Because we no longer use traditional letters very frequently, emails often tend to be lengthy. If you want the main point of your email read and you want action taken by the reader, put that important information at the beginning of the email suggests KC CREW member Linda Laurence, senior vice president with Missouri Bank. Laurence said that if the sender of an email indicates in its subject line “please read,” “needs action” or includes some other indication of the urgency of the email, she is much more likely to read the email promptly. In addition, using the subject line to summarize the email may make it more likely to be read and acted upon.

When you send an email to multiple parties, indicate what you expect of each of the recipients (or indicate if no response is requested from any of them). I often begin an email to multiple parties by stating the following: “You are receiving this email because . . . .” If you want the recipient to take action, state that. Summarize the action items. This may eliminate embarrassment and frustration for both the sender and recipient when no action is taken because it was unclear that action was expected.

Be mindful of the information you include in an email – especially if that information is confidential. One CREW Network member, an attorney, described an incident when a client of hers forwarded to the other side an email she sent her client, which outlined her recommended legal strategy, thereby forfeiting the attorney/client privilege.

Laurence cautioned the need to be more cognizant of fraudulent emails, the number of which is on the rise. Even though the email appears to come from a known source, if the language of the email does not sound like the language the sender normally would use or the sender makes an unusual request or sends information about a change of bank account or address, be wary. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to act on a request sent by email, but now I’m much more careful because of the prevalence of email fraud,” said Laurence.

Read your emails before you act on them, including before forwarding or replying to all. It may be appropriate to edit the original email before you send it along – and, not everyone needs your response. Remember their inboxes are just as full as yours, so carefully consider whether you need to send your reply to all of the original addressees.

Create an email labeling and filing system that works for you. Mark your emails or the folders into which you file them with the action you need to take (e.g., “Needs immediate reply,” “Respond to by [Date],” “Needs action”).

Make sure your business emails are professional. Re-read the email before you send it and correct spelling and grammar errors. Do not rely solely on “spell check”. One CREW Network member told of the time that the autocorrect feature changed her sentence which was supposed to read “I apologize for the inconvenience” to read instead “I apologize for the incontinence,” and she hit the send button without reading through the final message.

Assess whether the tone of the email can be perceived as rude. Draft the greeting of your email appropriately and be respectful. As a general rule, do not insert smiley faces or other similar “emoticons” in the email unless you know how the email will be received, and avoid the use of abbreviations, which may be unfamiliar to the recipient. “Know your reader,” advised Laurence.

Hengle reported that her company recently held a well-received email seminar for the staff. The seminar was led by the head of the writing lab at a local university who taught employees email etiquette, techniques for effective email writing and grammar rules.

No CREW Network member has decried the use of technology. Managed properly, it helps us do our jobs more effectively. The key, however, is to be more efficient about its use. As technology advances, learning techniques to manage it often seems as important as learning the substantive aspects of our profession.