Over the past 170 years, our ability to communicate took a couple giant steps forward. We were able to send signals across great distances to relay messages. At first it was in short bursting sounds, then voice traffic was possible and eventually we would be able to communicate by sending anything we wanted over thousands of miles of cable and even bounced off orbiting satellites. For thousands of years, our spoke and written languages have remained within our mouths and ears and fixed to paper. Since 1940, we've been able to send those ideas and thoughts and requests without opening our mouths and without writing with ink.
Email is ubiquitous. It's household, it's common, it's no longer a fad. I still remember the days when people carried pagers and had no email. To have an email address was a thing of wonder and wealth. The address was free, the service was free, but the cost for the internet usage was prohibitive and people didn't check it often. If you had access to email, chances are less than half the people you knew did as well. To this day there are folks who don't have email or do and don't use it. They feel it's gimmicky, impersonal and a waste of time. They'd rather pick up the phone or write a letter or plan a visit.
And that's fine. The world will always need Luddites to anchor the frantic expansion of technology. If it wasn't for all the legacy mindsets in the world, we wouldn't still be using fax machines. And who doesn't love a good fax now and then?
The problem is the half-assed attempts to bridge both worlds and no where is it more common than the small business web site. Take a look at any web site out there and you will see a Contact Us somewhere on the first page. The type of contact from that point is varied, but it will undoubtedly contain an email address or a way to send information to the company via a form. It does include a phone number or maybe a fax, but email is fast, it allows you to write out exactly what you want and it creates a record of your conversation. As someone who has worked in customer service, I truly appreciate being able to go back in time to see exactly when someone contacted me or I responded to them.
That all falls apart if there is no reply.
If you're a company that has a web site and you run advertising that points to that web site, and that web site has an email address, you must reply to emails the come in to your company. Even if it's an automated response saying something about calling you instead, do something. Email is just valid as a phone call and I find that more than half the time, I receive no response from companies using email. The exception being those with a dedicated problem tracking system that generates a ticket for a trouble call. But for general inquiries, I'm almost certain that if I send an email it will not be addressed and I'll have to eventually make a phone call.
Why not call in the first place, you may ask. Two reasons. 1) I don't like the phone. I get anxious and panicky on the phone and I tend to forget why I called and tend to leave out important information. My mind blanks out and I end up not getting what I need from the call. And 2) My belief is that if I email you, you should answer. If you have an email and phone, you're signally to your customers or clients that you can be reached that way. If you don't answer an email, it's a signal that you don't value the customer that approaches you that way and that's offensive.
I realize large companies get millions of emails and it's hard to negotiate the trash and spam from the actual correspondence, but there are tools for that. Mail servers and spam blockers are smart and sophisticated today and overload can no longer be blamed for the inability to respond to requests.
So what's to be done? Were I in charge of the world, I would force companies that don't reply to emails to remove the option from their site. If you want people to only make a phone call, only list a phone number. If you list an email address, you are acknowledging that a response will be sent. If not, it's akin to ignoring your phone when it rings or throwing a letter away before opening it.
There's no way to fight this, but moving forward, I will at least try. Every phone call I make from now on after having sent an email will also include the request to remove the email from their site since they don't use it. Hopefully the trend will catch on and more people will do likewise. I don't want to punish these people, I want them to act with some social responsibility. Ignoring people isn't responsible.
at 11:45 AM