Lewis' Blog Tales from the trenches of information technology


Email replies: How prompt is prompt?

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I am prompted (pardon the pun) to post this afternoon following an annoying exchange I had with a third party concerning a client and some information I was to have provided.

Yesterday, at approximately 4:30pm, I received a request for some information which I was to have provided this third party regarding my client's business entity. I was in meetings all afternoon (from at least 2 until 6pm), and had approximately 30 or so emails in queue waiting for my review by the time I left the office.

As is my wont when I'm in my Leesburg, VA office, I took my ThinkPad home to try to catch up on some of the work which I couldn't complete before leaving the office. After dinner with my daughter (just the two of us this week!), I went upstairs to my small home office to dig into some of these emails.

I did see this particular one last evening, probably around 9 or 10pm. At that point, I was indeed winding down (my daily schedule shifts considerably when I'm down here, as I rise early to breakfast with my brother before heading to the office), so I left off before sending even a quick acknowledgment back to the sender.

At noon today, which would be 19½ hours or so from the original timestamp, the sender bumped me (for those unfamiliar with the term "bump" in this context, it means to nudge a conversation thread, typically when the original poster preceives that he or she has been ignored).

I was pretty ticked off at being bumped, as the individual apparently phoned my client first (a definite breach of protocol when there is a professional involved in the discussion, acting on behalf of a client).

Perhaps it is over-sensitivity on my part. My own internal sense of decorum tells me that a 24-hour window should be allotted for a response from anyone involved in an email exchange, particularly when one party is unknown to the other (obviously, if a client emails me, I prioritize such communications).

So, I'll put it to my readers: Is 24 hours too long to wait for a reply from someone after an initial email contact?

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  1. Lewis,

    Playing devil’s advocate, 24 hours might be pushing it, depending on context. Then again, if you saw it the night before and did not act immediately upon it I’m lead to believe its not that urgent.

    Regarding calling the client first, I have to agree that’s a breach of protocol. That level of escalation (as us youngin’s call it) should be a last resort. I’d have bumped, called, looked for other email on your website, etc, before escalating to the client.

    So yeah, I can understand why you are upset here. This persons actions implied you were slow to the point of being remiss in your professional duties.

    • Thanks, Justin.

      In this case, the issue involved an insurance audit and a premium calculation for a policy renewing several months in the future. It all comes back to something to which I’ve alluded in my subsequent post, concerning the over-use of the Priority: header in email.

      The phone call to the client was the icing on the cake; thanks for recognizing that. Nothing like going over someone’s head less than a day after making a request. Most professional, indeed.


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