How can I spend less time on emails? According to Radicati, in 2019 the average number of business emails sent and received per user per day was 126. Of these, 96 were incoming, 19 of which were spam, and 30 were outgoing. In 2018 Adobe found US workers spent an average of 3.1 hours a day on work email.
Adding still further to the time consumed by emails, on average we spend up to 90 minutes more each day – that’s 7.5 hours a week – recovering from email interruptions. These statistics came from a survey by Loughborough University. Repeatedly moving from task to task slows us down. If we are to work in the most efficient way, it’s therefore very important to have in place processes and procedures by which emails can be managed.
In the maritime sector even the smallest organisation can receive literally thousands of emails a day. In other words, many times the average quoted above, with the challenges therefore being even greater. When working with those volumes, such processes and procedures are almost essential for survival, not only another way to stay ahead of the competition.
Email is here to stay and its use continues to grow. So what can be done about this torrent of emails? In the first part of this article we look at how a mailbox can be automated. Following on from there, in the second part we will investigate ways to save even more time.
What is email automation?
Essentially it’s letting repetitive tasks be handled by your mail software, without needing immediate user intervention, delaying it until incoming and outgoing emails have been processed in such a way that will minimise the time taken for you to deal with those that are important.
Imagine what is a relatively straightforward task, say identifying then marking in some way an email that relates to a particular vessel. If there are hundreds of emails regularly arriving in your inbox, scanning each one of them could take most of the day. By using message rules – explained in greater detail below – this checking and marking can be automated, thereby saving a huge a amount of time. Even better, what if emails could be identified, again without you having to look at them, and whenever they refer to ships your vessel database is updated? In other words, immediately an email is sent or received, your team can access that email from the vessel database. For that we have ShipLink as well as other AI products (see CompassPulse), which will also be explained below.
The time you save – even if it seems negligible in terms of an individual email – when there are repetitive tasks it soon adds up, even more so if the mailbox is being used by a team of people. This time can then be devoted more productive, more profitable activities.
Decide on those tasks to automate
Identify what tasks are undertaken regularly that also involve an element of repetition. Do this by both reviewing your inbox now and by keeping notes for a few days, recording how you manage it, focussing particularly on those activities that keep recurring. The resulting list will give you an insight into how you spend your time when it comes to handling emails.
Once you have that list, then consider how you can use the following tools to reduce your own input.
Keywords and tags
When a message is being drafted, or after it has been sent or received, keywords can be attached to it. These keywords are a means to easily identify emails when you need to refer to them in future. In addition to helping find emails easily, keywords are also useful when seeking to identify trends. Take the word “Singapore” for example. By labelling relevant emails with this keyword, a simple metric is then available to indicate the changing volume of enquiries associated this maritime hub.
Central to CompassAir messaging software, along with shared mailboxes, is the concept of “Views”, allowing a user to customise the way messages are organised and seen. When using generic software we are used to seeing only one view, namely the inbox as a whole. Keywords not only make searching for a particular subject matter much easier, they can also form the basis of defining Views.
It’s much easier for a team to collaborate if they have a method to group emails going in and out of a shared mailbox in such a way that best suits individual ways of working, based around types of emails that need to be handled in different ways. This becomes especially important when an individual user has access to more than one shared mailbox – being able to isolate different types of emails means they can be dealt with more efficiently.
For example, a user may have access to both an accounts department inbox and a sales department inbox. Within CompassAir there are no restrictions on how you organise what you see, nor on the number of different Views – it may be that you are particularly interested in unanswered emails in the sales inbox, maybe you also want to focus on those that include a key word, or emails where your team members are already discussing the content (find out more about CompassAir integrated chat) and how they might respond.
Another example of using Views along with keywords, is where a team member’s name, in the form of a keyword, is added to an email. It’s then possible for a team member to define a View that contains that name. This tagging can be used to delegate a responsibility to draft a response, or to draw a particular team member’s attention to a message that a colleague feels is relevant to that individual.
In the maritime sector, a very common use of keywords is to tag particular emails with a vessel name. That way, one can easily find all messages relating to a particular vessel, as and when required. Of course, having been developed for the maritime professionals CompassAir can do much more than this. ShipLink, more about which can be found below, automatically extracts vessel names from the body of an email and links it to your database, without the need to use keywords.
If you find your team responds to certain types of emails in a particular way, using the same or similar phrases, making good use of templates can save significant amounts of time. In addition, the responses of different members in a team to a similar email can be quite diverse in terms of tone, even though the essence of the message remains the same. Making use of templates ensures that a consistent tone is always used, throughout the team.
A template can easily be created from a message being drafted or that has been sent, and then filed in the View “Templates”. This View is then searchable and can be filtered in the same way as messages in other Views. All templates created within an individual mailbox will be visible to everyone with access to that mailbox.
Templates can be used in many ways but can be especially helpful when providing third parties with information about products, pricing, company policies, office hours and contact details as well as when responding to common questions raised by customers or clients.
Folders and filters
Similar to keywords, folders can also be used to group messages together in ways that make them easier to handle. For example, folders can be used to group emails by topic then, by using rules, emails can be automatically filed in named folders as soon as they arrive or are sent, making finding them later much easier and quicker. In a maritime business a folder might once again be a vessel name, the name of an owner or more generally the organisation to which the email relates.
Emails can be saved in multiple folders and automating the filing of messages not only saves initial valuable administrative time, but even more time when it comes to finding emails needed at a later date. Folders can also be used as a way to delegate work between the team sharing an inbox.
Outside of maritime, everyone receives marketing or promotional emails, some of interest to be read later or some to be immediately discarded. Message rules can be set up to collect the former in a specified folder ready for review when more time is available, the latter discarded to spam.
Colour coding emails
Colour coding emails as well as the use of flags, enable team members to see at a glance which emails need to be dealt with and which are a priority, as can be seen in the image below. Clearly, a coding system needs to be established and circulated in advance and, again using automation, emails can be consistently colour coded immediately on arrival in the mailbox.
Notifications – “NotifyMe”
An inbox shared by a team will most likely contain many more emails than those for an individual user. Along with the increase in volume comes the risk of email overload. Notifications can be used to lower this risk, alerting a user to those emails, as soon as they are received, requiring an immediate response whether it be to a client or relating to a particular deal.
CompassAir has a feature called “NotifyMe”, that will alert you, on both your mobile and desktop, to those emails you need to see as soon as they arrive or when they are sent by colleagues. Marking a message “NotifyMe” means CompassAir will be watching out for future emails in the same thread, which could be as simple as a reply arriving to an email you have just sent. You will know as soon as that reply arrives in your inbox, an alert having been sent to your mobile and desktop application.
ShipLink finds ships mentioned in your emails and links each email to the relevant ship in your vessel database. It understands the context of your emails and then immediately makes them available from within your vessel database. ShipLink has been designed specifically for use by SnP brokers. Our “Auto Update” is the equivalent for Chartering brokers – extracting specific information relevant to chartering vessels rather than their sale and purchase.
The value ShipLink delivers is both direct and indirect. By reducing manual tasks it will save money, allowing existing resources to be reallocated to more profitable activities. The indirect value comes from speeding up the availability of information required for decision making.