‘Emails should be 80 words or fewer’: experts reveal 10 rules to optimise business communication | Email marketing and automation with Mailchimp

Whether it’s by email, face-to-face or via a technology platform such as Slack or Zoom, good communication skills eliminate silos, win deals, and help build trust and loyalty with employees, clients and customers. But with the shift to hybrid working post-pandemic, many organisations are having to rethink how they’ve always done things. We ask three experts where leaders should start when it comes to optimising business communication.

Remember your audience is busy
The average professional spends a significant part of their working day reading and answering emails. And, according to Kim Arnold, business communication expert and founder of the email-writing training course Email Engagement, there are some pointers that everyone should know when it comes to writing emails.

“Whether it’s internal or external emails, it’s that battle for attention now that is the biggest problem,” she says. “I hear from sales teams that say they’re now having to do everything on email and are sending more cold emails than ever before.” The first step? Keep it short. “Assume that your audience is as busy and frazzled as you are. Most business emails should be 80 words or fewer, with 16 words or less in a sentence. And make sure you include a call to action – be very clear about what you want to happen next.”

Don’t invest in too many platforms
One of the biggest challenges with effective business communication is the multitude of platforms on offer. Jess Baker, a business psychologist with 20 years’ experience and the co-author of The Super-Helper Syndrome: A Survival Guide for Compassionate People, says some organisations are simply using too many.

“They might have Zoom, Teams, Slack channels, email … and they think this helps them manage internal comms. The reality is that people can get lost in all of these different threads of communication.”

Be very clear with your teams about which platforms should be used for which, she adds, and remember the basics: “What do I want to say? Who needs to hear it? When do I need to say it? And how frequently do I need to say it?”

Give customers choice
When it comes to good customer service, having different methods of contacting the team is key. One US survey found that 40% of consumers say multiple options for communicating is an important feature of a brand’s customer service offering, with talking over the phone to a live agent, email, and online chat the most popular options.

“Make it easy for customers to contact the organisation in a way of their choosing,” Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, says. “Be honest about when someone is talking to technology versus a human being, and make sure you have consistency across channels.” It’s also important to be proactive: “If you’ve got a problem with your website, for example, tell customers you’re working on fixing the problem.”

Female entrepreneur using smart phone with toddler son at home office
Remember that your audience may be busy, and keep emails short. Photograph: Getty Images

Be authentic
Any customer service interaction should be transparent, authentic and honest, Causon says. A poll (pdf) by the Institute of Customer Service found that up to 85% of customers lose trust when an organisation is not being transparent about products and services, and a third say an important factor in trust is when brands use clear, straightforward language.

Being authentic means staying true to your business’s core beliefs and values, and aligning all communication with that mission. Organisations that talk to their customers authentically are likely to build more trust and brand loyalty, possibly increasing engagement even when external factors such as the rising cost of living starts to bite.

Encourage two-way communication
Authenticity is important in internal communication too. Baker says: “Managers must communicate as authentically as they can to encourage their direct reports or colleagues to trust them. Not having trust can ultimately lead to more problems, which can cost more money to resolve further down the line.”

Almost all employers who responded to a 2022 survey acknowledge they have a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of employees, but most have no formal strategy. Effective two-way communication isn’t just about running an annual employee survey, Baker says. “Mental wellness needs to be taken seriously. People ought to feel comfortable enough to ask how the organisation can support them better.”

Balance value with selling
Email newsletters can be tricky to get right, but they are an incredible marketing tool when used properly, Arnold says. “Even if you’re sending out thousands of emails, it needs to feel like an intimate conversation. No one wants to feel like they’ve been slapped around the face with a sales brochure. You need to balance value and selling – give your readers things to think about, that might make them smile, or just genuinely brighten their day. When you’ve got enough of those brownie points, then you can sell.”

Be friendly
As well as authenticity, friendliness is another attribute that should be incorporated into email in particular. “We have a tendency to become very formal in our written communication,” Arnold says. “But email is just a conversation with a pause. It’s about building relationships with people, not just shooting out information. Plus, writing in a more conversational style shows people that this is a conversation, and you expect a response.”

Adapt your message
We all have different styles of communication, so it’s a good idea to check if your message has been heard in the way you intended. “Don’t be afraid to talk it through,” Baker says. “Knowing how to adapt your message appropriately is the sign of social intelligence.” When it comes to giving and receiving feedback, make sure you focus on the project or situation rather than getting too personal. “Be task and solution focused,” she adds. “Instead of saying: ‘You didn’t give me that information,’ you could say: ‘I needed more information to do my role on this project.’”

Feed insights back through the organisation
Customer service departments can be a great wealth of knowledge, but all too often those insights stay trapped within one small team. “Businesses that are the most connected to what’s really going on in the external world and what that means for their employees and customers are the most likely to remain relevant,” Causon says. “For me, a really good communication strategy is joined up across the whole of the organisation. It needs to be up, down and across.”

Be proactive about good communication
Successful communication begins with self-awareness, Baker says. “Observe your own style, your words, and how your message is received and interpreted by others. Consider the timing and medium for maximum impact, whether that’s checking in with your team or reporting to the board.”

For Arnold, businesses that are struggling with this need to tackle training first and spend time getting this right. “It might help to create playbooks for how your team communicates – what are the expectations? What tone of voice will you use? How do you use certain platforms? Organisations are going to find this becomes a real competitive differentiator – those that can persuade and influence remotely and those that can’t.”

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*Based on competitor brands’ publicly available data on worldwide numbers of customers in 2021/2022.

The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the people interviewed and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp or any of its cornerstone brands or employees. The primary purpose of this article is to educate and inform.