Thursday, May 22, 2014

Creating Effective Email Signatures For Interacting With Your Customers and Clients

In our line of business it is important that our emails get delivered through to our customers. Our company sends important information such as order confirmations, shipping updates, and other pertinent information in regards to orders via email. We have been asked by some customers, why in this day and age, we still use text based email formatting, rather than rich text or HTML formatted emails. The answer is plain and simple – deliverability and readability.

While we now have the ability to create fancier, graphically oriented emails that some people seem to be so fond of, the question is should we do it. In business you have to be cognizant of the fact that not every email client is going to deliver the exact same viewing experience to your customers. Emails may look one way on the Macintosh Mail app, and another on a PC in Outlook. And, they can look different on Gmail, then they do on a Blackberry, Android or iPhone.

Email Icon
Therefore we use text based email to make sure that the message is (1) delivered and not caught in SPAM filters, due to excessive graphics, HTML formatting, and links; and (2) is legible across the board, on all devices. Often times people will check their email from a smartphone or tablet, rather than a computer. We want to make sure the customer gets the same experience, whether checking it on the road, or from behind their desk.

One thing we have always struggled with is keeping an email engaging to read, using just plain text. One area of special interest has been our email signature line. Because we aren't including fancy graphics, or the equivalent of a pretty digital business card, we want to make sure we include pertinent information in our signature, so customers know who they are dealing with, at first glance, without having to rack their brains.

An overly long signature can make it difficult for the recipient to wade through the information to find your contact info. However, not providing enough information in your signature may leave a new client or customer wondering who you are and why you are contacting them.

Therefore, we have come up with some best email signature practices that we like to follow when our staff create their email signatures, and thought we would share them with you.

  • Try to keep your email signature as short as possible, and put the most important information towards the first few lines. A good rule of thumb is approximately 4 to 6 lines, if possible. If need be, condense your lines into fewer lines by using dashes, colons or other characters to separate fields.
  • Don't start your signature right after the last sentence in your email. Put a couple of extra line breaks at the end of your message, to keep it separate from the main message.
  • Try to keep your signature lines to 70 characters or less, as this is the set screen width default for many email programs. We try to keep ours as close to 60 characters as possible to avoid strange line wraps on the recipient end of things.
  • Plain text emails are usually best for a more unified experience across multiple email clients. If possible, skip colors, special fonts and graphics. Actually, there are many people that abhor receiving HTML and rich text formatted emails, for a variety of reasons. You are generally on the "safer side" sticking to plain text.
  • Use the appropriate signature separator in your emails, which is "-- " (dash dash space). Then start a new line with your signature information. Many email clients, including Outlook and Mozilla, use this to detect signatures from the main body of the email. This is useful for removing signatures from quoted material in replies, or for message highlighting. Other fancy separators may not be recognized as such in many email clients. 
  • Be very careful when using HTML formatting, as it might not appear the same in everyone's email client. What looks beautiful and professional on your screen, may be a garbled mess on someone else's. This could lead them to have a negative view of you and your company's professionalism.
  • If you must use logos or graphics, it is always best to optimize them for web use and upload the files to your server, and then use an absolute URL to pull them into your email. Some email clients will throw an email into a SPAM folder if it has graphic file attachments. And many mobile email clients won't show the graphics at all. You have a bit better chance of the recipient actually seeing your graphic with an absolute URL from your server.
  • Include links to your social media profiles, only if they are integral to your business. If you are sending a client a business email, there is no need to include your personal Facebook link, Twitter page, etc. However, if your company has a Facebook business page you may want to include that.
  • Avoid multiple contact numbers and email addresses in your signature. Pick one of each as your main point of contact and eliminate the rest. As a matter of fact, you may even consider dropping the email address from the signature altogether. They already have it, since you sent them an email. They just need to do a reply back to contact you.
  • Only include Skype and IM information if you want the customer to contact you that way. Otherwise skip it.
  • No need to include your physical or mailing address. Chances are the customer is going to contact you by email, not snail mail, and if they need that information they can go to your website for it.
  • When putting URL's in your signature, write the complete URL out, including the "http://www." part of it. Simply putting may not make it a clickable link in the receiver's email client. While it may work in many, it may not work in all.
  • Don't use the vCard feature in your messages. Many people don't use them, or know how to use them, and those that do don't need to keep receiving them with every email.
  • Try not to include personal quotes or cute sayings in your business signature. While it may be important to you, you never know who you may offend, or give the wrong impression to, on the receiving end of your important business message. And, for heaven's sake, don't put controversial or political quotes in your business email signature!
  • Don't include a legal disclaimer or "virus checked" message at the end of your emails, unless you are required to do so for your type of business. It takes up extra space and clutters the email message, and, quite frankly, is overkill for most general business emails.
  • Double check your signature file, before using it, to make sure everything is spelled correctly and all the information is current and correct. Nothing scream "unprofessional" worse than incorrect or misspelled info. This just makes customers question your business savvy and lack of attention to detail.
  • Set up your email program to automatically add your signature file to every email you send, so you don't have to keep typing it in manually. Almost all email programs have a way to set a signature file in them for repeated use.
  • Make sure to transfer your email signature, once you have perfected it, to your smart phone, if you use your phone a lot for responses to customers.
In our quest for the perfect signature, we have read many articles and opinions on the matter, and boiled it down to much of what we outline above.

A really great example of some poor email signatures can be found in this SitePoint article. I am sure we all know at least one of each of these type of signatures!

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