I’m (sadly) old enough to remember when electronic mail—email as it became known—was considered a privilege at work rather than a necessity.

Just like employers back in the day worried about putting a telephone on every employee’s desk (“Who knows what they’ll say to clients!”) so employers were concerned that allowing employees to have their own email addresses would cause more trouble than it was worth.

Of course, email, just like the telephone, is now considered a necessity. Any employer who doesn’t allow their staff to use email is putting themselves at an embarrassing disadvantage.

But do we now rely on email too much?

Email abuse

Our reliance on email has reached the stage where email is being used inappropriately.

Many of us now regularly get so much email we often ask ourselves, “When did my job become answering email?”

When somebody external to our business emails us, our instinct is to email them back. The trouble is, email doesn’t convey emotion. Email doesn’t convey intent. A badly worded email can, at best, cause confusion. At worst, it causes offence.

When used correctly, email is a convenient method of sharing information across long distances and different time zones.

Why then does your colleague, who sits 10 feet away from you, send an email asking what you’d like for lunch rather than getting out of his seat and, you know, talking to you?

If you’re emailing somebody with a question that’s likely to generate follow-up questions, pretty soon you’ll be having a conversation. Email is not for conversations.

Why spend so much time writing an email, waiting for a response, writing your own response, waiting for another response, and so on, when you could just pick up the phone and get all the answers you need quickly and efficiently?

Pick up the phone

For most managed service providers, encouraging your clients to use email is a good thing. Rather than bombarding you with support calls and sitting in a call queue, your clients can email their question, and you can prioritize and deal with it accordingly.

The challenge here is that most clients don’t do a good job of explaining what they want by email. This isn’t their fault—we’re the IT experts, not them. It’s often difficult for them to write down what’s going wrong or what they’d actually like to achieve.

So when a support email comes in, having your service desk send a reply email is usually a recipe for frustration. It’s by far better to pick up the phone, call the person, and ask them to clarify how you can help.

Using the phone takes less time, is more efficient, and gets to the heart of the matter faster than emails back and forth.

Likewise, for those of us in sales, emailing a prospect a proposal is a no-no. We can’t judge their body language or reaction when they read the proposal, and we can’t answer any questions as they crop up.

It’s much better to schedule some time with the prospect to deliver the proposal by hand, answer their questions in person, and judge their response.

If it’s not possible to meet in person, then schedule time to be on the phone with them while you email the proposal. You can’t judge body language over a telephone line, but you can answer questions and get some gauge of their reaction.

Email begets email

It’s also worth remembering that every time you send an email, you should expect an email (or multiple emails) in reply.

If you’re at all frustrated with the amount of email you process every day, then remember that email begets email. Send less email!

It’s true that while you can use the phone more and email less, others will be harder to convince. You’ll still continue to get emails and that’s OK. But by using the phone to respond to emails, you’ll get fewer emails and get more done.

Don’t believe it can work? You can check out my experiment using the telephone instead of email and see the results for yourself.

Use the power of email wisely

Email is a powerful tool—when used correctly. I’m by no means advocating we all eschew email and go back to the days of meetings, meetings, and more meetings.

But we’ve lost the personal touch now. Email can be impersonal and cold. With its lack of emotion and intent, badly worded emails can damage relationships.

A phone call is often faster than email and has fewer chances for miscommunication. Consider this when that next email from a client arrives. By picking up the phone or meeting in person, you’ll probably strengthen a relationship instead of risking damage to it.