Though we tend to take it for granted these days (since it’s been popular for more than 20 years), email is one of the greatest breakthroughs in communication technology that the world has ever seen.
It has enabled us to communicate faster, more efficiently, instantaneously, conveniently, and in a way that stays on the record. Consider these facts about email usage:
- The total number of worldwide email accounts was over 4.3 billion by the end of 2016. – The Radicati Group
- 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day. – Pew Research
- 61% of American workers who use the Internet say email is “very important” for doing their job. – Pew Research
But do you have any idea about the most basic statistics of your email usage, such as the number of emails you sent and received last week? If you’re an employer, what about your employees? If you’re a team leader, what about your team?
What about more advanced (and, in my opinion, interesting) metrics, such as what days of the week you send and receive the most email? Or the time of day your email volume tends to be heaviest? Or the clients for whom you spend the most time reading and writing emails?
Unfortunately, getting simple, easy, accurate, and insightful analysis of email data has never been possible.
This guide is all about visualizing you or your team’s email data to get actionable insights, which is now possible with our tool, EmailAnalytics. We’ll cover:
- Who benefits from visualized email data?
- What email metrics should be visualized?
- How should that visualized email data be used?
In concept, it’s pretty simple; collect more data about how you and your employees use email and then improve your collective performance as a business.
Let’s start by examining how email affects a company’s bottom line.
How Email Affects Your Bottom Line
On the surface, email may seem like an agnostic, straightforward tool that everyone uses the same way. But if it’s used incorrectly or inefficiently, it can have a massive impact on your overall performance as an organization. Take, for example, the following ways email impacts your profits:
- Worker productivity. How your workers use email can have a massive bearing on their overall productivity, in more ways than one. For example, if your employees are sending emails too frequently over topics that don’t require email, it could overload your other workers with too many unproductive emails to read and reply to, eating up hours of daily or weekly productivity. Your workers could also be spending too much time on email, taking hours of the day to draft and/or read messages that should be able to be completed in just minutes when they’re working efficiently.Email also opens the door to a number of miscommunications. If your emails are disorganized or improperly formatted, it may be hard for recipients to understand and reply to the senders’ main points. If there’s no clear summary of action items or no direction in the body of the email, it may be discarded rather than kept and taken action on. And because email is a fast, written medium, it’s astoundingly easy for email users to misrepresent or misinterpret tone, which can throw a wrench into your inter-worker communications. Though email has great potential to improve communication, it also has great potential to muddy it.
- Client relationships. Along those same lines, how you and your employees use email has a massive impact on your client relationships, both in terms of how your clients perceive your brand and how valuable those clients are to your brand. For example, if you don’t proactively email your clients with status updates on their campaign, they may feel like you aren’t communicating with them enough, but if you bombard them with emails, they may feel like you’re spending more time communicating than you are actually working. On the flip side, if they email you or your employees too frequently with unnecessary questions and back-and-forth exchanges, they could eat up more time than they’re worth.
- A microcosm. Email metrics can also serve as a kind of microcosm for the state and performance of your workers. For example, if you have an employee who sends out short, poorly thought-out messages on a constant basis, this is likely the type of employee who rushes through work without much thought or effort. If you have an employee who doesn’t email much at all, he/she may not have enough to do, or may be skipping out on work. You can also use the state of email inboxes as a relative measure of an employee’s organizational efficiency, and read into dozens of other metrics to evaluate general employee tendencies.
(Image Source: CDN)
Who benefits from visualized email data?
So I’ve established at this point that email is vitally important – moreso than ever – to your organization’s overall productivity and performance, and that collecting data may be the key to understanding and acting on problems in this performance.
Clearly, then, the following people can benefit from visualized email metrics:
- Business owners
- Team leaders
- Project managers
- Client managers
- Sales teams
By collecting, organizing, and presenting data in intuitively graspable visual constructs, such as graphs, charts, and other demonstrations, email data visualization allows you to achieve the following insights:
- Narrow your focus. With so much data at your disposal, it can be hard to figure out what’s most important. Visualization helps you categorize data in meaningful pockets, directing your attention to some of the metrics and variables that matter most for your efforts. For example, statistics like sent and received emails and email thread patterns are isolated for your more thorough investigation.
- Highlight patterns. It’s hard to see patterns when you’re just looking at numbers. But charting data visually gives you an immediately accessible and interpretable tool that you can use to form a fast conclusion. There are many visual charting styles that help you form snap conclusions you might otherwise miss.
- Achieve demonstrability. Visualization is also powerful because of its demonstrability. People have a much easier time accessing visuals, and they tend to leave a bigger impact (in part because visual data is such a big and important part of the human brain). If you’re trying to use your email data to convince your boss, your team, or even some of your peers to adopt new changes, visuals are the best resource you have to make a persuasive case.
Now that you know a little more about the relationship between email and data visualization, we can dig deeper into the metrics you can use to evaluate your own email habits, or those of your employees or team members.
What email metrics should be visualized?
Let’s dig into the specific metrics EmailAnalytics allows you to track to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team’s email activity. In this section, I’m covering 7 important email metrics for email you’ll want to track for your team—and why you need to track them in the first place.
What it is
What I call “running totals” metrics are total counts for various simple statistics in your employees’ email accounts. For example, you could keep track of how many messages they have received over a certain time period, as well as how many emails they’ve sent, how many spam emails they’ve received, and so on.
What it’s for
If you trace the patterns here over time with Gmail email analytics software, you could learn a great deal about how the individual members of your team utilize email, and if necessary, take action.
For example, let’s say you have a member of your team who has far fewer sent messages than messages in his/her inbox at any time, and a perpetually high count of unread messages. This could imply that this individual needs work responding to emails consistently and in a timely manner, requiring some mode of intervention.
Emails Sent vs. Received
What it is
Somewhat differentiated from the basic running totals, you can also look specifically at the percentage of emails a worker sends versus the number he/she receives. You can track this metric on a micro level, such as in a given day, to monitor their day-by-day working habits, or on a broader level, such as over the course of several months, to establish a trend.
What it’s for
There are a few different conclusions this ratio could give you, but be careful—there may be other explanations at play. For example, if your employee receives far more emails than he/she sends, it could mean a problem with response habits (like in our last example), but it could also mean he/she receives far more emails that don’t require a response, such as spam emails.
If email outreach is a task you assign to your sales team, then identifying which team members send the most emails may help you figure out who on your team is the most diligent; replying to every email and responding quickly. However, this isn’t always the case. If you find a team member is sending too many emails, they could be spamming your other staff with requests and delegated work, or annoying your clients with too many inquiries. Still, this metric will help you identify who on your team is emailing the most.
Top Senders / Recipients
What it is
The top senders metric is the list of email addresses from whom you received the most emails. “Top recipients” is a list of email addresses to whom your employee sends the most emails.
What it’s for
This is useful to pinpoint time-consuming clients, prospects, vendors, or other people with whom you communicate. Combine this metric with time spent on the phone with each client, and you’ll have a crystal-clear picture of how much time your employees spend communicating with each client. If you know the value of your employees’ time, you can then accurately assign a communication cost to each client.
Average Time Spent per Email (Reading/Writing)
What it is
Further drilling down into productivity measurement by senders & recipients, this metric gives you the average time your employees spend on reading and writing emails to and from specific senders and recipients. This gives you direct insight into not only how much time email takes out of your workers’ days, but which specific clients or people are taking up the most communication time.
What it’s for
The obvious benefit to this email productivity metric is identifying when your employees are spending too much time on emails, and it’s an easy line to cross. Compare your employees against each other; are some employees spending more time reading emails than others? Is this because they’re receiving more emails? If so, you can rebalance workloads, and if not, it’s an issue of individual productivity.
Are some of your employees spending a disproportionate amount of time writing emails? Work with them individually to help them find strategies to draft content more efficiently.
Hourly, Daily, and Weekly Traffic Breakdown
What it is
These graphs allow you to visualize email traffic (sent & received email volume) by day of the week, hour of the day, and day of the month.
What it’s for
The traffic breakdown email productivity statistic will help you learn broad productivity trends and identify possible productivity issues within your team. For example, if you zoom out to a weekly view, you may find that your team’s traffic spikes on a certain day of the week, or that a certain individual is busier or more productive on one day.
Or, when used in combination with other email productivity metrics, you may find that a high volume of emails received but low volume of sent email could be cause for concern about an individual’s productivity.
What it is
Different email programs group messages differently, but as a general rule, if one or more responses follow an initial message, they’re treated as a group of interrelated messages called a “thread,” or more colloquially, a conversation. These are indications of in-depth discussion occurring over email, and this email statistic will help you identify how often they occur.
What it’s for
How you use your email thread statistics depends on your emailing policies, and the types of exchanges you expect. For example, if you try to keep email as concise and directive as possible, with fuller conversations and brainstorming sessions happening over IM or over the phone, a high number of email threads (or threads containing many emails) could be an indication that your policies aren’t being followed.
On the other hand, it could indicate that your team members are actively communicating with each other regularly, rather than letting messages die without a response.
Obviously, you’ll have some threads that end after only a couple of messages, and some that extend for days or weeks on end, but this statistic condenses that information into a single identifiable metric.
There are times where long email conversations are warranted, but as a general rule, the fewer messages that are exchanged per thread, the better; this is an indication that a problem is addressed promptly, that information is communicated effectively, and that your team members can work together to close the loop.
If you see that this number is exceptionally high, investigate to see if there’s a reason behind it and try to address it proactively before it worsens. Long, clunky email threads are unwieldy, confusing, and time-consuming.
What it is
Some of the more interesting Gmail metrics relate to the attachments that are sent and received by your employees. Primarily, it’s important to know what kinds of attachments your team is receiving, and what they’re sending, and the quantity of each.
What it’s for
Attachments aren’t inherently good or bad for productivity; however, they can be managed more efficiently. For example, if you notice that some of your team members are constantly exchanging attachments, you may opt for a centralized system to manage your documents and files, like DropBox or Google Drive to increase efficiency while decreasing email load.
Average Response Times
What it is
Response times are one of the most important email metrics you can examine if you’re worried about your brand reputation (as well as your overall productivity). This statistic will tell you exactly how long it takes your employees to respond to emails.
What it’s for
The shorter the average email response time is, the better. Faster responses for clients and partners lead to a greater brand reputation and smoother deals. Faster responses between employees mean questions are answered faster, information is exchanged more readily, and everyone can become more productive.
Generally, responses within 24 hours are a must, but responses within 1-2 hours are even better.
How to Use Visualized Email Data Insights to Improve Your Team
By now, you understand how important it is to use email to measure and improve your productivity as an organization, and you know many of the email productivity statistics that will help you get there.
After uncovering some of the weaknesses of your team’s emailing habits, you may feel like you’ve made real progress; but unfortunately, none of that progress is going to count until you put your conclusions into action.
These are some of the most important ways you can make those insights actionable.
Give and Receive Feedback
Establish a culture within your organization that appreciates, accepts, and recognizes feedback, and make sure every individual on your team is participating. When you uncover points of unfavorable productivity or lapses in efficiency in your email statistics, make it a point to bring it up with the parties involved.
When you do so, bring it up in a positive, constructive way, and instead of focusing on what the individuals have done wrong, focus on how they can do better in the future. Set mutually agreeable goals, and give them whatever resources they need to get the job done—especially if they need some help in the beginning to refine their individual approaches.
However, the importance of feedback to email productivity goes beyond you sharing your insights with the weakest members of your team. In fact, all of your team members should be sharing insights with each other; for example, when one team member starts an email thread with an unclear message, other participants should address this lack of clarity.
The more aware and involved your team is, the better, more productive communicators you’ll all be able to become.
Institute Email Protocols
In an effort to improve the productivity of the group and get everyone used to the same standard procedures, you could also institute some kind of email protocol; depending on how in-depth you wanted to go, you could write up a simple “best practices” sheet, or have fully documented guidelines for how to use email in your organization. For example, you might want to outline when it’s appropriate to use email versus when it’s appropriate to use a different communication medium, or you might offer examples of effective emails versus ineffective emails to demonstrate the difference to new and seasoned team members alike. Or, you could train your team how to make Gmail faster so employees spend less time waiting and more time working.
The benefit here is that you’ll get some degree of consistency. Everyone on your team will have access to the same guidelines, and theoretically, they’ll be able to follow them in the same ways. Overall, this should help your productivity. The downside is that communication is personal, and everybody has their own style. Trying to shoehorn everyone into using the exact same messaging procedures could result in disaster, or create more problems when people try to mimic a communication style that isn’t natural to them.
Hold Workshops and Team Meetings
As an alternative to the email protocol approach, you could also gather up the team for workshops or meetings designed to improve everyone’s email productivity at once. Depending on your motivation for calling the meeting in the first place, you could lead the discussion with a series of examples, outline best practices, or jump to working with your participants one on one to start writing more effective emails.
This is best used during the early stages of your push for email productivity; as you get further in your efforts, you may find that individual attention is a better approach.
After the first few weeks of optimizing your team (and organization as a whole), you should start to see marked increases in email productivity. Your key metrics should start to improve, and as your teammates continue exchanging feedback and improving on their own, your rate of change will accelerate further.
However, you’ll always have people lagging behind; there will be some individuals in your group who don’t develop as quickly, either due to difficulty learning the new protocols or due to apathy. Either way, it’s on you to work with those individuals to get them up to speed.
Optimizing your email productivity through data visualization isn’t a one-time process; it’s something you’ll have to stick with for the long term. Even after you start seeing meaningful progress, and even if everyone on your team seems to be following proper procedures, it’s worth monitoring your team’s email habits and progress on a regular basis.
If there are any new developments or deviations, you should spot them proactively, and there will always be new opportunities to optimize your performance.
There’s no question that the quality and quantity of emails you and your team send can have a drastic impact on the overall productivity and reputation of your organization—not to mention the stress and sanity of everyone involved. For help, see our post on how to manage email overload at work.
Through email data visualization, you’ll be able to pinpoint some of the peskiest hiccups and productivity vacuums of your internal and external email communications, and hopefully change them over time.
It takes commitment from everyone in your organization but the end result of clearer, more effective, less intensive communication will mean smoother working relationships, higher productivity, and fewer miscommunications for everyone.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.