Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fax Etiquette Facts

and why this etiquette is still necessary

"I finally got rid of my fax machine. I was receiving so many unsolicited faxes on a daily basis, it simply wasn't worth the cost. As I was paying for the ink, the paper, the phone line and electricity, it was like paying for the postage on the junk mail the mailman delivers weekly into my mail box." Maura Graber, Director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette

From 1989:

Let us pause in the day's occupation to consider some of the social issues related to facsimile (fax) technology. Learning to use a fax machine or a PC fax device is relatively easy, but learning to use it responsibly appears to be a little more difficult. There is an etiquette to faxing, just as there is to correspondence, telephone calls or personal meetings.

Imagine if a loud and abrasive stranger walked unannounced into your office, slapped you on the back, asked you to stop working while he made a sales pitch, reached into your desk drawer for a pen and piece of paper, then asked to borrow your phone for a few minutes. Worse, suppose he dashed from the room before you had the satisfaction of throwing a paperweight at him.

That is essentially the way a fax hacker attacks. The key to a fax machine's power, and also its Achilles' heel, is that it works over regular telephone lines. Any boor with a fax machine and your phone number can deluge you with unwanted documents.

The assault can be more egregious than junk mail or telephone calls because the fax hacker uses your machine, your paper and your phone line. Also, many fax machines have ''broadcast'' capability, letting them send the same message to more than one fax machine while operating unattended, so one fax hacker can easily annoy dozens of people.

As more and more fax machines enter offices, hotels, restaurants, airline terminals and homes, senders need to be aware of how to avoid offending receivers. The Golden Rule is simple: Fax unto others as you would have others fax unto you.

People need to keep their fax machines open to receive important documents, but that means the machine is open to unsolicited documents as well. When one document is coming in, all others are held up. 

Companies that send frivolous letters by fax, perhaps in the belief that the technology itself lends an air of importance, are temporarily appropriating another company's resources.
"Ah, bless them. News emerges that the royal family sent their "save the date" wedding notifications to the heads of all the other European dynasties (or third-to-sixth-cousins as they might also be described) by fax. In a way, it's nice to know that the monarchy's internal clock has made it all the way to 1985. Perhaps soon they will discover Duran Duran and finally start to understand where poor Diana was coming from." The Guardian News, 2011

The intrusion is even worse if the receiving fax is installed inside a personal computer. Unless the fax board is capable of operating in true background mode, meaning that it acts independently from the computer's main processor, an incoming fax can seize control of the computer, forcing the user to halt whatever work is in progress until the transmission ends.

If the intrusion comes at the moment a user is storing a file, there is also a risk of losing important data. ''Just last night I got 56 pages, all of them a repeat of the same sales promotion from a thermal paper company,'' said Bill McCue, marketing manager for Public Fax Inc. of Orange, Calif., which publishes a directory of public fax stations. Apparently the sender had meant to broadcast the message to different recipients but had misprogrammed the machine.

''He was very apologetic and said he was sending me a replacement roll of paper,'' Mr. McCue said. ''The lesson is that when you're broadcasting, you should be careful whom you're sending it to and considerate of what the reaction is going to be.''

The delayed transmission feature on many fax machines allows the sender to instruct the fax machine to wait until night, when phone rates are lower, before broadcasting its messages. Besides saving on phone bills, it does not tie up the recipient's fax machine during working hours.

Start every transmission with a cover letter stating the sender's name, the number of pages being sent, including the cover letter, the recipient's name and any other information that will help get the fax to the proper person. Include a telephone number to call in case there is a problem with the transmission, such as a lost page or dropped line.

Use as complete an address as possible. Imagine the fate of a letter addressed simply to ''Daddy, Big Building in New York.'' Remember that a telephone number can serve hundreds of people. it can be dangerous to assume that the recipient actually received the transmission, especially if the fax was unsolicited. A successful transmission simply means that the document made its way to the receiving paper tray.

Above all, call ahead to get the rules of engagement, especially from people to whom you plan to send faxes regularly. After all, you are asking for permission to use their expensive equipment and their even more valuable time.

Calling ahead requires an investment of a few minutes of telephone time, but it pays off by conveying the impression that you take the process, and the information to be sent, seriously. Also ask if a follow-up call is necessary.

If receivers decline to give their fax numbers, respect their wishes. Some people buy fax machines in the spirit that it is better to transmit than to receive. 
This article originally appeared in the NY Times, 1989

Is the Fax Machine and Its Etiquette Still Relevant Today?  Yes!

The culture of handwriting is firmly rooted in Japan. The majority of resumes or CVs (curriculum vitae) are still handwritten because Japanese employers are said to judge people's personalities from their writings.
Fax machines gather dust in parts of the world, consigned to history since the rise of email. Yet in Japan, a country with a hi-tech reputation, the fax is thriving.

At Japan's talent agency HoriPro Inc, Yutaro Suzuki is busy writing up his next project proposal. Not typing, but writing by hand.

HoriPro is one of the largest and oldest agencies in the country and Suzuki publicises almost 300 singers and actors. But behind this glamorous profile, he cordially writes detailed schedules by hand.

"It takes longer but my feelings and passion come across better," says the 48-year-old public relations expert. "I find emails very cold so I prefer to fax handwritten documents."

In a country which boasts one of the fastest broadband speeds in the world, Suzuki thinks his affection for the fax may be a rare case in such a tech-savvy country. But 87.5% of Japanese businessmen surveyed by the Internet Fax Research Institute say that a fax machine is a crucial business tool.

And Suzuki's preference reflects aspects of Japanese culture which still embrace fax machines, despite their disappearance from parts of the developed world.

Firstly, the culture of handwriting is firmly rooted here. For example, the majority of resumes are still handwritten because Japanese employers are said to judge people's personalities from their writings.

For season's greetings cards, don't dare think of sending computer generated messages, says Midori's "how to write a letter" website.

"New Year's cards without handwritten messages come across as businesslike and automatic," it says.
 Though what we once used daily for a century, has nearly been tossed to the wayside due to new technology, 87.5% of Japanese businessmen surveyed by the Internet Fax Research Institute in 2012 say that a fax machine is a crucial business tool.
Not surprisingly, people aspire to have good handwriting. Calligraphy remains one of the most popular lessons that parents send their children to and many adults take private lessons to improve their writings, too.

Secondly, Japan is obsessed with hard copies. People like to hold actual documents, not just to receive soft copies.

"You may miss an email but if you fax a document, it's physically there so you cannot miss it," says Setsuko Tsushima who runs a real estate agency.

"Even if I am not in the office, other staff would notice that an urgent document has come through," she adds.

For any official documents including housing contracts, they also require seals instead of signatures in Japan.

The majority of the population has a seal called jitsuin which is officially registered as theirs through a government office.

Unless original documents must be submitted in person, fax machines again come in handy because documents stamped with seals can be sent.

There is another reason Japan continues to use fax machines in the email era.

Japan is a country known to be high-tech but not everyone is. More than a fifth of the population is aged over 65.

The older generation who cannot keep up with emails still prefer to use fax machines.

That is why Supermarket Aeon has decided to take orders by fax and phone, not just on their website.

"We started taking orders online in 2008 but received quite a few requests from customers, especially in rural areas, that they prefer to order by phone or fax," says Hideo Binnaka who heads the online sales team.

"They are mainly our older customers so we also offer to check up on them if we don't receive any orders for a month to make sure that they are ok."

There are two types of Japanese consumers: those who are very high-tech and others who are still wedded to traditional forms.

The majority of Japanese households - 58.6% of them according to the government - still owns a fax machine, which also functions as a phone.

They are not necessarily clunky and old, however, because the manufacturers continue to release new models which have the latest technology including online faxing. It allows users to fax a document by using the internet.

The Internet Fax Research Institute says that more Japanese companies are keen to use e-fax (a fax sent using the internet) due to advantages such as cost reduction, business efficiency and environmental friendliness.

But for Suzuki, nothing beats handwriting. "I draw maps, too," he says.  And there it is, on his summer party invitation, a map to the venue with every detail that partygoers need.

From BBC News, Tokyo, by Mariko Oi,  2012

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia