Stop Burning Bridges With Your Emails

A couple weeks ago one of our neighbor’s kids, Katlyn, knocked on our door to tell us about her school project.

Being a father myself, I was a little distracted at the time. “Dad, who is at the door? Can I go outside and play? Can I watch?” my oldest son yelled out as Katlyn was giving her explanation. Meanwhile his younger brother was repeatedly trying to throw himself off the couch.

Needless to say I forgot all about Katlyn’s project as soon as I closed the door. A couple weeks later I discovered a note on my door:

No worries that you didn’t have any chip bags, granola bar wrappers, ink cartridges this time!

Remember I will be back in 2 weeks to collect these items again!

Secrets Behind a Good Message

I thought Katlyn’s note was brilliant for several reasons:

  1. Starting out with ‘no worries’ conveyed there shouldn’t be any blame or guilt.
  2. It reminded me the specific details of her project.
  3. It wasn’t demanding in any way and painted a positive path forward.

Burning Bridges With Email

Katlyn’s note made me think about the way we communicate with our clients.

All too often we’re caught up in our needs and forget where our clients are coming from. Argh! I can’t believe you’re late again! You better give me a good answer why ASAP or else!

Which often translates into an email like this:

The attached invoice is 8 days past due. Since your invoices have been consistently late we will start charging an additional 15% for every past due invoice as stated in our agreement.

It’s clear, to the point, and expresses urgency. But how do you think it made your client feel? Do you think they were urged to stop everything they were doing and rectify the situation as soon as possible?

Of course not. There’s nothing in it for them.

It’s like when my kids expect me to jump up and do something for them when they repeatedly yell “I want…, I want…, I want…” in my ear. Not going to happen.

A Great Email

Instead lets take a lesson from Katlyn’s note and try to rewrite that email

I hope the team gathering was a great success!

Most of my invoices have been paid late which doesn’t worry me too much except there’s a trend of them getting paid later and later.

Do you think we need to come up with terms other than Net 15? I can be flexible since I really enjoy working with your team. Its just important for me to know exactly when money will be coming in for budgeting purposes.

Let me know what you think.

The above message follows all the rules that made Katlyn’s note a good one with a couple extra points.

  1. It intros showing we understand why the invoice might be late. As an extra bonus it gives them an opportunity to talk about themselves which will encourage a reply.
  2. It describes our feelings and concerns. Not in a blaming way but in a way that would make them feel sympathetic to us. This only works if you’ve invested time in developing a relationship with your client.
  3. It paints a positive path forward and gives them the option to decide. People like to be in control, especially if they’re the ones writing a check. As a general rule I always try to provide my clients with options so that they can choose.