We’re a small business unit supporting a variety of business functions within a larger organization. For the most part, our communications with our stakeholders and customers are indirect, one-way “dialogues” through email. Our customers reach us with requests through email about 75% of the time, and usually we respond back through the same channel.

Our challenge is that it’s difficult for many of us to get stakeholders to respond to our inevitable request for clarification – which in turn – creates a delay in resolving the problem, or fulfilling their requests. Any tips for improving our response rate?


Believe me, this is not a problem encountered by just your team! One-way email communication is so tricky. Unless the stakeholder is very explicit in the initial request to your team, it makes sense that a follow up request for more clarification and/or information will be required. You might experiment with the following:

Pick up the phone – for all the time spent crafting an email asking for more information and the customer’s time to clearly respond to the request in a manner that doesn’t necessitate another round of emails, why not create a protocol that distinguishes when a request is best communicated by phone vs. email. This clarification of what’s best to resolve through which avenue will eliminate the need for a second round of “tag.”

Ask nicelya recent study by email productivity software provider Boomerang affirmed a 2010 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; being attentive to minding our manners does produce results. According to Boomerang data scientist Brendan Greenley, “It’s the one or two forgotten words at the close of the email that seem to have the greatest impact on whether or not we get a response.”

According to Boomerang’s research, the most effective closing is to thank the recipient in advance of something they haven’t even done yet – “Thanks in advance” – 65.7% response rate. Depending on the reader’s frame of mind when they open your email, there is some risk involved with this phrase. The closing could be interpreted as a bit aggressive and pushy; but for the most part, it seems to get results. Greenley goes on to suggest that your closing should always be genuine and most importantly, “be yourself.”

Don’t overlook the importance of business etiquette and civility in the workplace. For more ideas on this topic, click here to read a previous blog written by Debbie King, SPHR.

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Process Improvement – if you have a large enough sample size, it may be appropriate to assess which requests for additional information are the hardest to get a response to.   Perhaps there is a way to create an app or a checklist to enable the responder to think through the request as it is viewed through your lens, rather than theirs. They may not know the type of information you initially need and an app could help guide a quick response.

Whatever you decide, it’s always a good idea to mind your manners and think back to those lessons we learned growing up. Don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.” Research continues to demonstrate the positive link between receiving an expression of gratefulness and a resulting positive action to respond. We all want to be appreciated, and kind words spoken, or written, help to enable individuals to feel socially valued and increase the opportunity to “pay it forward.”

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