We Still Love Email, But We’re Spreading the Love with Other Channels

Our love for the inbox remains, but our preference for engagement on other channels has increased. That’s one of the findings in our fourth annual consumer email survey of over 1,000 white-collar workers in the U.S. According to the survey, which looked at how consumers are communicating across email and other channels, time spent checking personal email is up an impressive 17 percent year-over-year (YoY). Consumers are checking personal email an average of 2.5 hours on a typical weekday. On top of that, they’re spending an average of 3.1 hours checking work email.

All this time means people have integrated email into nearly every part of the day. Ninety percent of respondents check personal email during work. Eighty-five percent check it before they get to work, and nearly a quarter take a look before they even get out of bed in the morning. People even check personal email while watching TV (60%), using the bathroom (40%), talking on the phone (35%), working out (16%), and even driving (14%).

Why is email so ingrained in our lives? One reason may be that it’s so manageable—we can sort, file, filter, and generally get things done. It’s also a known, safe quantity. We’re familiar with how to make email work for us, and we feel confident about the privacy of our data.

Email still matters, a lot, for brands

Our survey also suggests that consumers are happy interacting with brands through email, with half of our respondents preferring to communicate with brands by email. And it makes sense that email is the most preferred channel, beating out channels like direct mail (20%) and social media (7%). Consumers are comfortable opting into email relationships with brands—it’s a familiar sort of a handshake. They know they can make choices, such as how often they receive messages. And if brands slip up, consumers know it’s easy to unsubscribe.

What nudges consumers toward the unsubscribe link? Our respondents told us that these brand-email sins are likely to end the relationship:

Since email continues to reign as one of the most important communications investments a brand can make, it pays to get it right. You can’t just avoid the sins, you also have to deliver. According to our survey, top wishes are emails that are less promotional and more informational (a priority for 37 percent of our respondents) and emails that are personalized to the recipient’s interests (a must for 27 percent).

But more than anything, brands should ensure they’re engaging with customers where they want to be reached. While still on top, preference to receiving offers from brands via email dipped 17 percent YoY, and other digital channels like chatbots and smartwatches are gaining traction.

Is email changing the way we communicate at work?

Our survey also checked in on the role of email at work. Among the most interesting findings, we’re seeing big differences across generations. Consumers age 25-34 spend the most time in their inboxes—a whopping 6.4 hours per day compared to 5.8 hours among 18- to 24-year-olds, and 5.2 hours among those over 35. But the 18-to 24-year-old crowd seems to be the most obsessed with their work email—more of them check it on vacation (81 percent) than any other age group, more check before they get to the office (81 percent), and more are focused on reaching inbox zero—that magical moment when you have no unread messages (68 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds strive for inbox zero, compared to 55 percent overall).

So how is an email-centric younger generation influencing the communication landscape at work? They’re not driving us toward an entirely electronic communication style—during the last three years of our survey, email was the preferred method of workplace communication, but this year, for the first time, email and face-to-face talks were tied (both at 31 percent).

But for the tough conversations, in-person meetings might be losing ground. Only 44 percent of 18- to 24-year-old workers and 52 percent of 25- to 34-year-old workers say they’d have a face-to-face conversation to quit their jobs, compared to 77 percent of workers over 35. In fact, 15 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 10 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds would quit their jobs by instant message or an enterprise social media network.

And, even though workers are willing to communicate so much electronically, it’s not always an elegant interaction. Our respondents had plenty to say about the frustrating, annoying phrases that proliferate in email. The number-one most detested is that old passive-aggressive standby: “not sure if you saw my last email” (25 percent of respondents hate this one most).

So, what’s the takeaway? Companies may need to help employees get a solid grasp on communication etiquette and effective cross-channel communication. Of course, sending a Slack message when you need a quick, simple response makes sense, but how do you thoughtfully, productively remind someone about a task? How do you leave the job without burning the bridge? We’ve mastered a huge range of technologies for sending words to each other, but we might need still need a bit of guidance on how to get our meanings across.

Check out the full 2018 Consumer Email Survey report here for more details.