I’ve reached a critical mass with incoming e-mail. In GTD, we are encouraged to doing something immediately if it will take 2 minutes or less, but responding to 50-100 e-mails a day really bites into the time I can spend actually coding.
The problem is volume – I need to cut down the amount of e-mail I take the time to respond to. To do this, I’m trying to determine some guidelines. Here is a rough cut of e-mails I’m considering trashing without a response:
- The answer to the e-mail can be found on my web site with minimal looking.
- It is a request for help or information without providing enough information in the request for me to be able to reply.
- It is a ‘can you tell me how to do X?’ e-mail, where X is some arbitrary piece of web functionality (unless it sounds really interesting of course).
- It is a WordPress support or how-to question.
Obviously, this does not apply to support e-mails for my commercial software.
What do you think, is this a fair approach to take? Perhaps there is a better idea I haven’t thought of…
I have started the process of ‘killing’ my E-mail recently. You might find the following interesting (please read it! I am not posting it in vain):
On my site I’ve had this problem for a few years. One thing I did to reduce the amount of email was setup an auto-responder.
All users are asked to send a message to a “help” address. An automatic response is sent to each user with a link to my FAQ. The message very clearly says that if their answer is in the FAQ, they will not hear any other response. It also says that if they really believe their message isn’t answered, they can email “more-help”.
Unfortunately I have no statistics on how well this system works, but the impression I had was that email volume did drop. Now, if I could only take the time to implement something to handle forgotten passwords.
I used to answer incoming email for Be Incorporated (BeOS, if anyone remembers that). Dozens and often hundreds of messages a week, a serious time suck.
I created a series of boilerplate responses, which Eudora made easy to use (via what is now known as stationary). I could whip through most of the messages in about 1/5 (one fifth) of the time it originally used to take, sometimes faster, while still taking a moment to customize each answer, so people felt like they were really in touch with a human being (which they were, and which we felt was important).
But the volume kept going up. Eventually we also put up an auto-responder, which used the strategy Leonard advocates above, “If your question is answered in one of our extensive FAQs, you will not receive any further replies.”
That worked well enough for the time.
Alex: Maybe you should only respond to emails at set times of the day, and give yourself “email breaks” from your coding?
I like the idea of the autoresponder. I know when I receive one pointing to the FAQs, if I haven’t already looked there, I will then. It also lets me know that the answer is probably out there, and encourages me to keep looking. It’s much better than no response at all.
I was going to suggest an autoresponder but I see that it has already been done. It is important to remember (as I see all the time with my students) that not everyone has the same skills when it comes to finding information on the web. Providing people with an automatic e-mail directing them to sites like the WordPress Codex and support forums addresses this issue, while also lowering expectations that they will necessarily receive a personal reply from you.
I already have auto-responders on my support forms, the issue is more with the random stuff that comes in from various sources. I don’t want to put an auto-responder on my personal address.
You need to have several E-mail addresses for different purposes. The difficult part is making sure that people write to the designated address.
Yes, I understand – already have that.
I can see why you don’t want to put an autoresponder on a personal address, it would certainly suck.
I don’t know what email program you use, but perhaps the boilerplate response idea is the best. When I worked support for a large ISP we had a number of well worded responses to the most common requests, and firing off a response was a matter of clicking a button. People either received the info they were looking for, or an explanation why we needed more info and it only took us a few seconds.
Trashing silently may offend some people, at least an auto response of ‘you haven’t given enough info’ gives them a place to start.
Good luck anyway, and let us know what your final solution was 😉
So far, my experience with auto-responders has been that people reply to the auto-response 90% of the time and are much less polite in the reply. I’m not sure that is any better than just deleting the e-mail without any reply. 🙂
No response is the worst response. Even a short answer is better then no answer. If I had a general question for you and received no response, especially if I followed it up with another email, you can bet your bottom dollar the LAST thing I’m going to do is buy an software from you. No response is like shooting yourself in the foot.
Ok, perhaps I should take another approach on this. How would you reply to this e-mail?
That was the entire e-mail.
Here is another:
What would you suggest doing with these e-mails?
Also, some customers are not worth having. 🙂
Two words: bit bucket.
Other than trashing it, I agree that templated responses may be the way to go for the two examples you provided. No auto-responded, but templated. Templates can take almost the same amount of time as reading and deleting the message. For example, with the list that you have given of things you do not want to repond to. I would create a template that says:
Thank you for your email. This response is to inform you that your email falls into one of the following categories:
*Answer available on my website. The answer to your question is available on my website (https://alexking.org/) with minimal browsing. Please review the website content to find the appropriate information to answer your question.
*Not enough information provided. Your email request did not contain enough information. Please be specific in your requests and provide as much detailed information as possible.
*Request for instruction. Due to the high volume of email received each day, I am unable to respond to requests asking how to create web functionality. For specific instruction, please see http://www.kingdesig[...]development/ for information on consulting services.
*WordPress. If your question is related to WordPress, see (insert WordPress Support site URL). I do not currently offer WordPress support.
You can of course add any other typical things that you don’t want to individually respond to. If you want to be a little more helpful, you can demarcate which of the items really applies to them. If you want to be even a little more clear, you can delete all the items that don’t apply to them. Even having the entire list there will make the person happy that they received a response.
That’s my 2 cents worth.
Follow-up on E-mail Policy
I’ve gotten some great responses to my proposed e-mail policy and I wanted to follow up on them.
Many people have recommended responding with a canned reply or template. I actually already do this. I currently have 12 “templates” that I send out …
One of the things I’ve done since adopting my e-mail policy earlier this year is work hard at creating useful FAQ articles that I can point people to when they come to me with questions.
I’ve taken care to include pretty much everything I…