Former Sage head of customer services Guy Letts now runs CustomerSure, the Cramlington software-as-a-service firm that helps businesses to manage their customers better.
He says: “I now get the same volume of email as a start-up as I did in a corporate. The difference is that in a corporate I was getting emails about obstacles in the car park and other things of limited relevance sent by people who were not being responsible or discerning.
“I think about 10% of the emails I got in that situation were relevant, whereas now about 90% are relevant to ourselves or our customers.”
However, he says the blame lies not so much in the medium, but in the culture that dictates how people use it.
“I really sympathise with the sentiment, but I don’t like the idea you have to do a day for this and a day for that. I actually went on holiday during National Customer Service Week.
“If you focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying attitudes and causes, you may solve the problem for a day but it will still be there waiting for you the next day. I applaud Paul for making a stand, but in the end it comes down to the culture of an organisation, and that’s tied to the attitudes of the leaders.
“I’ve seen people go into work, sit on their emails all day and go home thinking they’ve done a hard day’s work. Actually they’ve done nothing to improve the company’s product or to improve customer experience. They’ve just cleared their inbox. It shows what a distraction email can be in an organisation that allows that sort of culture.”
Letts also says that the focus on social media is another “red herring”, and that the important thing is dealing with the problem rather than obsessing about the channel of communication.
“It’s not about the communication medium. It’s about your reaction, and whether you can get the problem solved. If you say you can guarantee you’ll solve a customer’s problem quickly and efficiently if they send you a smoke signal, they’ll find a way to send you a smoke signal.
“They’re not contacting you because they want to use a smartphone. They’re contacting you because they have a problem, and you’re the person they think can solve it. You’ve got to focus on getting the problem solved by the person that they speak to first and then leave them to go about their business. And in most cases, they will try to contact you by phone call or email.
“That said, anything that gets people thinking more about their customer and how to serve them better is a good thing.”
As the co-founder of online Gateshead business Ethical Superstore, Andy Redfern admits he “wouldn’t like to scare people off from sending transactional emails”.
However, he does say that establishing and maintaining email discipline is important in any organisation.
He says: “If you were to tell your customers you were having a day off from email and you’d contact them tomorrow, I think that would be a problem. That said, a break from sending internal emails between colleagues would be a welcome and sensible step.
“There’s a danger we can spend all of our lives watching notifications. We even do it in our personal lives, waiting for the little red flashing light on the Blackberry that turns out to be something trivial. Nowadays, people come off the Metro, switch on their phones, and all crash into each other because they’re all looking down to see if they have any new messages.
“I really believe you have to have a culture in place in the organisation for dealing with email, or it can create friction.”
Discipline is something many are trying to impose both in and out of the office. The drive to cut out the waffle has birthed services such as Shortmail, which limits emails to 500 characters. And you’ll see a few people around town setting themselves the challenge of sentenc.es (sic), in which they pledge that every email sent will be limited to a certain number of sentences.
Particularly in larger organisations, there’s a tendency to include other people in email discussions using the “cc” option. Redfern says this can be a drain on time, and Ethical Superstore has set up a system to deal with it.
He says: “We created a rule at Ethical Superstore that if you want someone to do something with an email you put them in the “to” box, and if you wanted to send something just for information you put it in the “cc” box.
“Personally, I used to have an immensely complicated system for managing my email, with multiple tiered folders. I’ve come to the conclusion that, with the better search tools available now, I can have two folders - one marked done, and one marked not done.
“I’ve got an uncle who’s a lawyer and he basically has an out of office that lies. He will say he’s out of office for the next four hours and will just get on with a reading that needs doing for a case. If anything really urgent emerges, someone will call or send an email to a colleague.
“There’s a real danger you can use your email too much in business, when just picking up the phone can be a more effective way of solving the problem immediately. It can also be a chicken’s way out, and I’ve seen people in the past who write an email, press send and then run.
“Quite often for niggling issues it’s good to get off your bum and walk over to someone or pick up the phone.”
For more information on No Email Day, go to www.slideshare.net/lordlancaster/no-email-day-by-paul-lancaster, check the Facebook page or follow @NoEmailDayHQ on Twitter