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What is an email Return Receipt (RR) and how do you use it properly?

Respect privacy with proper use of email return receipts (RR).

Do you know what an email Return Receipt is? Have you ever used one? Surprisingly most folks will answer “no”. That is up until you receive one.

Return receipts are the senders way of making a request to know that an email has been opened on the recipient’s computer. When the email is opened, a system generated email is sent back confirming this. It does not, however, confirm that the recipient actually read your message.

Return Receipt Best Practices

This morning I had an email from a site visitor asking about how and when one should use Return Receipts (RR) due one of his friends making this request with every single email that they sent. Every single email.

That is why many email programs have this feature set to disregard or ignore. Review your settings so you are familiar with your options.

Don’t be a busybody!

Do you have someone in your life who has this feature turned on for every single email? (I hope you don’t do the same.)

You don’t want to be “that person” who wants to know when every one of their emails is received. Especially when the content is not critical or important. Makes you appear to be a control freak.

In some cases those who do this may not even know they have this option selected. You could very nicely email them with a “Did you know…..” and explain this is a not a feature to use for every single casual email. Use this as a teachable moment.

The recipient should have the privacy to determine when/if they want to read an email and reply to it — if at all. And, again, remember that received does not mean read.

RRs should be reserved for those instances where it is critical to knowing the email was received/opened. And preferably that the other side is open to acknowledging that. Such instances would include legal and important business issues.

Most Decline Anyways

Those who turn this functionality on in most cases are not aware of what will happen when they do. They think how neat it would be to “know”. What they don’t realize is many times the other side has to approve the request.

I have my email program set to not send any RRs. Any requests are just ignored. None of anyone’s bee’s wax when I open an email. That said, when it is a serious matter and I can understand why there is an RR requested, I change my settings so I can provide my approval.

Legal and Business Issues

RRs are best used when you want some sort of proof or trail to document that an email was sent and subsequently opened. Things like legal papers, contracts, non-disclosure agreements and the like.

I do know of some folks who set RRs for family and friends who do not reply to their emails. They want to confirm that the email was opened because they believe they are being ignored.

The thing is if RRs are set to be ignored you still won’t know the recipient’s intent in not replying (or maybe you do). If you do get an RR and no response, then you know for sure you are being ignored.

Either way, I would think there is a better approach to using an RR if you feel you are being ignored. Actually request a response in your email — or pick up the phone.

For me, I have never found a reason to use RRs with personal emails to friends or family. To send an RR request for every day-to-day email, especially personal email, is simply not necessary (and to be honest a PIA).

Now you know what a Return Receipt is and when is the best situation to use them. Go check your email program settings so you are aware of the options available to you so that you can use them properly and with discretion.

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