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Taming the E-Mail Tiger Before it Bites You

August 10, 2001

I have a friend who does marketing for a national accounting group. She confessed to me recently that if her e-mail system is down, she might as well not come to work. In fact, she blatantly admitted that she spends her entire day sending and receiving e-mails.

You must keep in mind that my friend is very good at her job, and is incredibly successful in bringing together members of the group who are spread, literally, across the United States. However, our conversation brought to mind more than one story in which countless practitioners and professionals told me they are totally consumed by e-mail, and receive so many during any given day that they cannot begin to scratch the surface on reading, let alone answering, all the messages.

Thank goodness for filters that come with popular e-mail programs. Filters allow the user to automatically get rid of junk e-mail, place any mail sent by certain persons into separate folders, and even color-code incoming mail by specific subjects or importance.

While filters help organize e-mail, they are a weak substitute for getting at the heart of the longer-range problem.

We have become a society too dependent on electronic correspondence. Whatever happened to picking up the phone? I laughed when I heard that some of the staff at the AICPA had downloaded AOL and Yahoo's free instant messenger software. Yes, I use it myself, but they are using it like an intranet of sorts to be able to buzz in and talk with one another -- within the same company -- at any given moment. While I find instant message programs effective, these messages are also a nuisance if you are working on something and are constantly interrupted.

The solution rests with one-on-one communications. E-mail does have its place, and it is very welcome in my office and even more so while traveling. However, a personal phone call to a client, customer and even an employee is even more necessary in our digital economy.

I recently finished a term as president of my local communicators group, and was stunned last spring when the two, 25-year-old co-chairs of our awards/recognition program -- our highest profile event of the year -- were having a hard time soliciting entries from past winners. When I asked them how many phone calls they had made, they looked at me very strangely. As it turned out, they hadn't made any calls, and instead sent one e-mail to each previous winner. I may have been showing my age, but Generation-X came screaming into my ears loud and clear. They hadn't even thought about calling, which is really sad.

As professionals, CPAs should take a much more personal approach by soliciting more one-on-one communications. I'm not advising getting rid of e-mail and any other electronic communications. It does mean making an effort to call instead of sending a note. Better yet, schedule a meeting to talk in person.

The benefits? Start with improved communications skills by practicing them more often. Add in the respect you'll gain by your customers, peers and others because you "broke the mold" on always communicating by e-mail.

Finally, you'll achieve personal satisfaction in knowing you have one less e-mail message to handle. That leaves room for all sorts of pursuits!

By Scott H. Cytron, ABC Cytron and Company Public Relations, Communications and Marketing


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