This past week I was reminded of worst practices for email, unfortunately at Steve Jobs' expense. My Comcast Internet featured a video from Good Morning, America, an ABC news show. The video cobbled together a story of email gone wrong between Apple CEO Steve Jobs and a college journalism student.
Here is the short version: The student phoned and emailed Apple's media relations department with a question about the use of an Apple product in higher education. She received no reply, and because she needed the information for a journalism assignment, she emailed Mr. Jobs directly. According to Good Morning, America, Mr. Jobs' three–yes, three!–emails to the student comprised the statements below.
- "Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry."
- "We have over 300 million users, and we can't respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry."
- "Please leave us alone."
It was the final message, "Please leave us alone," that drew the most ridicule in the video.
I am sorry to see a business leader looking bad in the media. But at least we can take away these lessons:
- Do not put anything in email that you would be embarrassed to see on Good Morning, America or on everyone's computer.
- Do not communicate with a customer or a potential customer when you don't have the time or inclination to do it well.
- Do not tell customers or potential customers to leave you alone. What if they all did?
I feel a degree of empathy with Apple and Steve Jobs. Although Apple is a huge successful company and Syntax Training is a tiny successful company, we too receive email we don't have the time or staff to answer. We end up doing the best we can to send personalized automatic messages and to try to keep up. Yet we know some email just doesn't get answered, and we hope people will try again when messages fall into the proverbial cracks in our email system.
What lessons do you glean from Mr. Jobs' off-message message? And do you reply to all your non-spam email? Please share your insights here, and I will do my best to respond!