E-mail Challenges and Benefits
Communication by E-mail
By Saul D. Klein
At the dawn of the new millennium, the Internet and related technologies constitute the #1 challenge-and potential benefit-to the real estate professional. In particular, e-mail represents a major innovation, influencing the lives of real estate professionals and the people they deal with every day: buyers and sellers of property. Everywhere we turn, we hear conversations about the E-Transaction, with e-mail constituting a critical component of the overall experience. Unless you are proficient with e-mail, the E-Transaction will pass you by and you will be. How does the saying go? "roadkill on the information superhighway."
Today, according to the National Association of Realtors, three out of five Realtors use e-mail in their business. Increasingly, an e-mail will be considered a necessity. However, those who truly know how to harness its power will wield a competitive advantage.
Old and New Paradigms
Few real estate professionals can imagine what it would be like to do business without a telephone or fax machine. The telephone has been the primary means of business communication for years. It is the Old Paradigm of business communication. The New Paradigm of business communication is e-mail. Unless you are willing to communicate with clients using e-mail, you will lose a significant base of potential clients.
Ironically, almost everyone who uses e-mail believes that he or she has "mastered" it. After all, how difficult is it to compose and send a message? The truth of the matter is that composing, sending, receiving, and reading e-mail represent a small portion of e-mail's overall potential. E-mail, when mastered for strategic advantage, becomes much more than a simple utility. This article will help you tease out the sophisticated nuances of e-mail and allow you to leverage these aspects for continued business success.
The Real Estate Client's E-mail Capabilities
The first thing to be aware of when working with e-mail is that the effectiveness of your e-mail correspondence is not purely a function of how well you write. The recipient's experience is driven not only by what you do before sending the message, but also by how he or she processes the information. Some of this has to do with "e-mail consumption habits." For instance, consider these two different scenarios:
- Your recipient's e-mail software is running at work throughout the day. He or she may be conditioned to check incoming mail either when he or she (a) hears the background noise signifying incoming mail or (b) checks mail intermittently throughout the day.
- Your recipient may be an individual with an AOL account who goes online every few days.
The point here is to understand precisely how your client uses e-mail so you can formulate your electronic communications strategy accordingly.
If your client is an e-mail junkie who checks e-mail more than voicemail, he or she will expect to get late-breaking news from you via e-mail right away. Also, because your client may receive literally over a hundred e-mails a day, it is imperative that you use a succinct, attention-grabbing title in the subject line, such as: "Tuesday 4 pm: Oak Trail house on the market again." The point here is to make sure that you talk to your clients about their e-mail-using behavior at the beginning of your business relationship-preferably at the time you ask them for their e-mail addresses. Moreover, get in the habit of asking for an e-mail address from every person you meet and want to work within the future.
E-mail Software Flavors
Likewise, it is important to understand that e-mail software comes in some flavors. Some people use e-mail clients that can view Web pages written in a special programming language known as HTML (hypertext markup language). On the other hand, an e-mail client, such as that included in AOL, will not enable the user to view HTML. What looked perfectly readable on your monitor would be impossible-to-decipher code on the recipient's monitor. Again, it is imperative that you, as the real estate professional, get a handle on precisely what your client's e-mail can and cannot do. What is the best way to do this? Ask your client.
E-mail Software Programs
There are dozens of e-mail software programs available. Typically, when you first sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you receive a basic program, such as Eudora, that enables you to use e-mail. In some cases, your computer may come equipped with Netscape or Microsoft Explorer, in which case these systems will have their e-mail software. Microsoft's Outlook Express, for example, comes with many useful features such as an address book, distribution lists (for sending to groups), spell checking, and sorting capability-and, it is free and can be downloaded easily from the Internet.
E-mail Conventional Principles
Regardless of the idiosyncrasies of various e-mail programs, there are some common principles that apply. To state the obvious, writing an e-mail is not like writing a letter, sending a fax, or placing a phone call. Like any of these communication tools, however, e-mail exhibits some conventional ways of doing things that are unique to the medium. The conventions of e-mail composition cover a wide variety of elements. As in any form of written communication, keep the best interests of the recipient in the forefront of your mind when you prepare your message.
Make things easy for the recipient.
Here are some guidelines to make your e-mail messages more effective:
- Create useful Subject lines. This will help your users in sorting and locating messages in the future. Important messages could contain URGENT in the subject line to attract the recipient's attention.
- Avoid using too many CAPS. This is considered a form of shouting.· Use emoticons, alphanumeric representations of feelings, such as :) (the smiley face) to convey humor or joy, for a specific tone of voice. E-mail is a flat medium so be careful; sarcasm or humor can be misinterpreted.
- Use a spell checker and re-read your message before sending it. Most e-mail managers can be set so that the message goes into an Outbox when the Send button is pressed, thus giving you another chance to change your mind about sending it.
- Use good professional judgment when you talk about others. Mail is easily forwarded. If you use a Reply to All feature, the person you are talking about might be on the CC list.
- Limit your line length to 65-70 characters. Otherwise, some e-mail programs will not properly wrap the lines (particularly if you post messages to a listserv discussion forum). If you use more than 76 characters, you might see = (the equal character) at the end of each line.
- Use an automatic signature at the bottom of your message. This is because some e-mail programs do not include the From line with your address at the top of the message.
- Use the mailto: prefix in writing an e-mail address. Do this especially if you want the recipient to be able to click on the address and have it open a pre-addressed e-mail response form. Be careful about leaving no spaces, as in mailto: Joan@abc.com Unfortunately, Mailto: will not work with AOL readers.
- Acronyms can be helpful, but you should not overdo them. BTW= by the way; FYI = for your information; IMHO = in my humble opinion.
- Do not send unsolicited attachments. These could tie up the recipient's mail while they are being downloaded. Do not send large files without first getting permission. Many people are cautious about opening files because they might contain a computer virus.
- Do not over-quote a prior message in your response. Add enough of that message to put your response in context.
- Use the HTTP:// prefix when you list a Web site's URL. This increases the chances your recipient will be able to click on the full URL and be transported to the Web page itself (does not work with AOL recipients).
Send in plain text. Most e-mail programs can read plain text. Once you start to add unique formattings, such as Web documents, special characters (bullets, ampersands), different fonts, and color, you risk the recipient's not having the right program to fully appreciate your message. When in doubt, send in plain text (ASCII text).
If you do not know what type of e-mail reader your correspondent has, PLAY IT SAFE.
Saul D.Klein has been a REALTOR for over 20 years and is Past President of the San Diego Association of REALTORS and their 1999 REALTOR of the Year. He is President of InternetCrusade, Realtown.com, a company providing technology solutions to the real estate practitioner and broker. For more information send a blank e-mail to mail to: ProductInfo@realtown.com