30/04/2015 06:34 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 06:59 BST

Email Response Times - Patiently Wait or Chase and Risk Annoying the Recipient


How long do you wait after sending an email before you chase the recipient for a reply? A client had an email from one of their clients at about 5:30 pm when they had already left for the day. The email was asking for some amendments to her website which did not appear to be a particularly high priority in the overall scheme of things.

Next morning there was an email chaser from the client at 9:30 am saying 'did you receive my email?' My client was just about to answer, but being chased so soon annoyed her so much, that she left it a few hours. Then her client chased her again in the afternoon, which annoyed her even more. In the end, she did answer, but left it just under 24 hours before doing so.

Who's email behaviour was right?

Previous research by Mesmo Consultancy found that whilst 25% expect a response within one hour, 50% assume half a day is reasonable. Interestingly, internal senders often expect a faster response and especially those who deal with their email primarily from a mobile device. Unrealistic expectations can lead to increased levels of stress, errors and email overload. In this age t24x7x365 business, what is a realistic email response time?

A working day is my recommended guideline for a response. We all have busy schedules and an on-going stream of tasks and work in-hand. Therefore why should your email queue jump? A working day allows the receiver time to give a considered response and not disrupt their work in hand. Clearly, response times may vary depending on the nature of your work, for example you might be front-line operational (help desk, sales etc). For certain organisations four hours might be more reasonable. For financial traders one minute might be too slow.

Alternatively, you might be a professional (solicitor, accountant etc) being asked for an opinion. Responding too fast can lead also to misjudgments and wrong advice which as some of my clients have found can be expensive.

The key is to be explicit about your email response time and hence manage the sender's expectations. Include your normal response time in contracts, on webpages, even in your email signature. Make clear too how senders should contact you if the matter is truly urgent, bearing in mind what they think is urgent maybe not urgent for you as per the opening example. This way you can again manage their expectation whilst still providing an air of customer first and good email etiquette.

In this way you will also reduce the email traffic created by all those unnecessary chaser emails from senders with unrealistic expectations.