Ty Collins, December 22, 2020
Figuring out how and when to send a reminder email is a social dilemma that most people know all too well. No one wants to come across as impatient or pushy but no one wants to deal with missed appointments or lapsed deadlines either. How do you balance the need to respect someone else’s autonomy with the need to get things done?
The etiquette dilemma is easily solved with a well-written reminder. These are the messages that get the point across without creating hard feelings. They’re professional and effective yet friendly and gentle.
In this article, you’ll learn how to create emails of this kind. But first, let’s learn when it’s appropriate to send them and how to find your perfect timing.
Reminder emails are useful when something important is coming up and when something should have happened but didn’t. Here are some situations that could benefit from sending a reminder.
Late payments: Payment on or before a deadline is standard business etiquette. Things happen but you still have the right to your money. Don’t feel guilty about sending a reminder email if a payment deadline has passed and you haven’t received those funds.
Vendor issues: Sometimes you’re the one who needs to pay but a vendor hasn’t sent you an invoice. Alternatively, maybe you ordered something and it hasn’t arrived. Your business depends on that product or invoice, so it’s fine to get in touch and check in.
Missed work deadlines: No worker is an island in today’s business world. If one person promises to complete a task by a particular day and it doesn’t happen, entire projects fall behind. It’s better to send an email reminder before too much time passes.
Lapsed communication: Most people have been in a situation where someone promised to do something and get back in touch, but that message just doesn’t come. A reminder can help to re-establish contact and find out if the task just slipped the person’s mind or if there’s something else you can do to help.
Upcoming important events: Some events and deadlines are too important to risk missing. For these, you can send a gentle reminder in advance so everyone stays on track.
Pending job applications or interviews: If you’re in the running for a job, a follow-up email can improve your chances of success. It’s important not to inundate the hiring manager with messages, but a carefully timed message can help you stand out.
It’s not always easy to find the perfect time to send a reminder email. How soon after the job interview or missed deadline, or how far in advance of the important event, should you get in touch?
The answer depends on what you’re waiting for. If you’re reminding someone about a missed deadline, payment, invoice or shipment, it’s appropriate to send a reminder on the first business day after the due date. Waiting longer not only lengthens the delay but also increases the risk that the person will forget the details of the agreement.
If you’re following up on something that didn’t have a due date, it’s considered good manners to wait a little bit longer—especially if someone’s doing you a favor.
The same goes for follow-up emails to job applications and interviews. Applying for a job is stressful and it always takes longer than you’d like. But hiring is a complex process on the employer’s end, too. When you wait instead of rushing to follow up, you show the employer that you respect their time and authority.
According to Harvard Business Review, you can follow up a week after your interview if you haven’t heard back. Indeed recommends a longer wait of 10–14 days. Think about what the interviewer or hiring manager has said to you about their timeline. And always send a message at least a few days past when they said you’d hear back.
Advance reminders are easier. You can send those out one business day before the event. Two days before is appropriate if the person has to make elaborate preparations. If you use Calendly, you can easily schedule reminders to auto-send a certain number of hours before the event.
Apart from when you send the email, one of the most important elements of reminder etiquette is how you say it. You want to strike a balance between urgency and understanding. The gentler you can be, the better.
Here’s how to craft a reminder email that will drive your point home without hurting any feelings.
A subject line is a must. It’s simply good email etiquette to include one. A good subject line reassures the recipient that you’re not a spammer, which is important if you’re messaging someone like a vendor or job interviewer. They may not know you well and may not have your address in their contact list.
If it’s a professional message related to a missed deadline, a good way to start your subject line is with the words “Response Required” or “Action Required.” These get people’s attention and may encourage them to open the email.
Naturally, you don’t want to use this phrase if you’re emailing someone who’s doing you a favor or courtesy. If you’re following up after an interview or getting back in touch with someone who offered to do something for you, the phrase “Following Up” might be better.
Either way, make sure that you reference the matter at hand. Below are some examples of how that might look:
“Response Required: Widget Delivery”
“Action Required: Richardson Project”
“Following Up: My CV”
Like a subject line, a salutation is a must when you’re sending a reminder email. It makes the message sound friendlier and more professional at the same time.
People agonize over email salutations, but it’s not as tricky as some might make it seem. These simple tips will help you choose the best one for any situation:
Use the standard “Dear” if you don’t know the person or if you have a more formal relationship.
Use Mr., Ms., or Mrs. for more formal messages. If you don’t know the recipient’s gender, you can default to something general like “Hello” without a name. You may also use the person’s full name, as in “Dear Alex Smith.”
Use “Hi” or “Hello” with the person’s first name if you want to establish a casual tone.
Since your goal is to write a gentle reminder email, start with a friendly message. It’s best to be specific and reference something appropriate that you know about the person, such as an upcoming milestone or a big project they’ve been working on. For example:
“I hope everything is going well with the Johnson’s Widgets acquisition. I know you’ve been devoting a lot of time to it.”
“Congratulations on the success of your Superwidget product launch. I’ve heard great things about it.”
If the person is a colleague or someone who has done something nice for you recently, you can offer your thanks as the opening to your email. For example:
“Thanks for your work on the Miller proposal. I think we’ll get a good response on that.”
“Thank you so much for offering to send my resume to your boss. It means a lot to me.”
If you don’t know the person or their work, something like “I hope you’re having a good week” is fine.
Once you’ve opened with the personal touch, you can work on getting your message across. This is the part you’ll want to spend the most time on. Be clear about what needs to happen and when but take care to avoid blaming language.
One of the most delicate types of reminders is the missed-deadline reminder. Here’s what you might say in that situation, starting with an appropriate gentle opener:
“Thanks for your work on the Miller proposal. I think we’ll get a good response on that.
Right now, though, I’m concerned about the Gentle Widgets product launch. As we’d discussed, we needed the market research from you by yesterday, so our design team can get started. They need that information ASAP so the project can go forward.”
The message above is clear about what didn’t happen and why it’s so important. You can apply that kind of clarity to any reminder email, including those that remind people of upcoming events. For example:
“Thank you all for your hard work on the Richardson project. Remember that we have the wrap-up meeting with them on Thursday, which is when we’ll sign the final contract.”
“Thank you again for meeting with me about the administrator position last Monday. I remember that you were hoping to schedule second interviews by Friday. I know that these processes can be delayed, and I wanted to reach out and see how I can make it easier for you.”
Your purpose in sending a reminder email isn’t to impose guilt but to encourage something to happen. The best way to get that across is with a request for what you need the recipient to do, along with when you need it. For example:
“Please let me know when you expect to submit that research. I look forward to hearing from you by the end of the day. We do need it urgently—so if there’s anything I can do to help, please reach out to me at (555) 555-5555.”
“As you prepare for follow-up interviews, please let me know if there’s anything more you need from me. I’d be happy to send you more information about my role in the ABC project that we were discussing.”
Always end by giving the recipient the benefit of the doubt. A good closing sentence sounds something like:
“Thank you for prioritizing this matter.”
“Thank you for getting this to me as soon as you can.”
“I look forward to your email.”
The last thing to do is to sign the email. As you did with the salutation, consider your relationship with the person and how you want to come across. When in doubt, use one of these professional sign-offs:
All the best
End with your full name. When sending an email to someone you know very well, you can use your first name. If it’s someone you don’t know, add your job title and company name. Make sure they can connect you with the project or event you’re referencing.
If you explicitly request a response to your reminder, you can reasonably expect to get one. No response usually means one of three things:
The person didn’t get your message.
They don’t feel like they have enough information to reply.
They’re purposefully delaying getting in touch.
To maintain goodwill, try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they want to reply. If it feels necessary, write again to see if they need help.
It’s frustrating to have to send more than one reminder email. But keep in mind that everyone has their reasons for not replying. Give them a few days to respond before following up again. When you do, keep your tone patient and remind them why the matter is urgent. If they don’t respond after the second reminder, consider giving them a friendly phone call during business hours.
Two reminders also suffice for an upcoming event. One email the day before an appointment and another an hour before are usually enough. The first one provides an opportunity to send anything they need to prepare and the second gives them a chance to offer a heads-up if they’re running late.
Your reminder doesn’t have to be an email. SMS messages can be friendlier and they’re proven to be effective for getting in touch. Research shows that as many as 98% of texts get opened compared to 20% of emails. And while only 6% of emails get responses, that number goes up to 45% for texts.
SMS messages are also easy to send, especially with Calendly’s notifications tool. You get to remind people of upcoming appointments, missed responses and more on a custom schedule. You can set reminder messages to be sent at specified intervals before or after events. It keeps everyone on track and reduces delays—and in the end, that’s what reminder emails are all about.
Ty is the head of digital acquisition and content at Calendly.
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