The Death of Email or the Birth of Choice?

Donna Wilczek
Donna Wilczek
Senior Vice President, Strategy and Innovation, Coupa Software

She is an executive sponsor of the Coupa Executive Advisory Board and an inventor with multiple software patents.

Read time: 4 mins
Animated image of smart devices with the same program in use.

I was talking to an analyst the other day about new software features we’ve developed to let people perform transactions directly from their email without having to register for, or log in to a system. I’m a fan of this kind of functionality, because it really helps people live by the two-minute rule, letting them quickly complete tasks and move on. To me, these are the kinds of things that add real business value and drive adoption.

After reviewing this, the analyst made a comment to the effect that many product organizations in our industry are moving away from email, while we’re adding more email capabilities. The dialog that followed was around my view that what we’re really seeing is not the demise of email, but the birth of choice. A variety of options is what people need to be successful, because everybody works differently. I think email still matters, and businesses and product developers should not count it out. Here’s why.

A trend afoot?

For a few years now, people have been predicting the death of email, presumably to be replaced by some more collaborative means of communication. You know there’s a new trend afoot when people are saying things like, “My 16-year-old son doesn't use his email account.”

Yet email is still the most used application in any corporation, and email service providers are still reporting strong growth. There are over 100 billion email messages sent daily. That dominance may diminish, but it’s hard to imagine that email will soon die and be replaced with something else.

Email is now just one of a multitude of ways to communicate and transact. To remain competitive in this era of choice, businesses must recognize that they have to connect with customers in many different ways, because there is no longer any one sure-fire way to reach and interact with everyone. That means thinking beyond specific tools or platforms to the needs of different people, and let those dictate the approach.

For example, Facebook was supposed to be one of the things that was going to replace email, but today’s 16-year old may not even have an account. The hip kids have all moved on to Snapchat, which makes perfect sense in world where youthful mistakes can live forever on the internet and become ammunition for cyberbullying.

A 16-year-old kid is in high school and doesn't have a job. Does he or she really need email? Snapchat, Whatsapp or plain old texting will do just fine. But I'm not certain they’d work for me professionally. 

Best for business 

But why should that be? The original genius of email was its speed - it allowed you to communicate instantaneously, which was a big deal in the days when interoffice memos could take hours or days to reach their intended recipients. Today, there are myriad ways to communicate instantly, most of which can fit in your hand, or even on your wrist.

Email, however, suits many business needs. It updates live throughout the day, and because there’s a lot of relevant content going there, you’re in that system throughout the day. Email is a suitable vehicle for attachments, consolidating different conversations into distinct threads, and it has straightforward and intuitive group messaging capabilities (which smart phones have only just started to figure out). From an employers' perspective, it's great because it's easy to monitor and leaves a clear virtual paper trail.

It's all about freedom of choice and giving people the right tool – or, more likely, their choice of tools for the job. It’s challenging for businesses to develop products and services and messages for all these platforms and various end-user populations. And at the same time, there’s a new opportunity to think beyond the medium to what it is that the customer wants and needs.

I would suggest that we all start with this question in mind: What is success for the end user? If you start with a clear definition of success, you can work backwards from there and choose from a whole palette of platforms and mediums for what it is you want to help people do. Email might well be among them. Email, web, app, SMS, wearables . . . consider them all and choose as many as you think you need to increase your rate of adoption and customer success. In this era of choice, options are the only thing that's not optional.