Email Etiquette: Don't Ever Let Your Staff Send An Email Like This
The story that I’m about to share with you is highly embarrassing because it’s the best example I’ve ever seen of how NOT to send email, and it comes from my home country, New Zealand. The story has made the rounds of many world media including Yahoo, AP, Reuters, BBC, and many blogs (including this one), where it continues to be re-told, even though it happened a few years back. Here’s what happened:
A New Zealand attorney named Paula Brosnahan, age 33, and her fiancé, Steve Hausman, 36, were looking at wedding venues. After visiting many different options they finally settled on having a cliff-top wedding in a small town called Whangaparaoa (a breathtaking spot just north of Auckland). In doing their research, the couple requested a quote to rent a marquee from a company called The Great Marquee Company. They’d viewed the company’s website, seen the photos and had made an appointment to inspect the marquee in Auckland where they lived.
After inspecting the marquee they decided it wasn’t what they were looking for. So they emailed a polite response to the company saying they would continue their search for the right marquee.
Here’s what it said: "Paula and I went and viewed your marquee setup at Devonport ... unfortunately we did not like it ... thanks for your assistance and we are sorry that it turned out this way."
The response that came back from the company’s office manager, Katrina Jorgensen, was shocking: "Your wedding sounded cheap, nasty and tacky anyway, so we only ever considered you time wasters. Our marquees are for upper class clients which unfortunately you are not. Why don't you stay within your class levels and buy something from Payless Plastics instead."
That single email response from the office manager had no doubt been sent when she was having a bad day. It has now been circulated throughout the world and read by hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. The next day, the owner fired the office manager (who happened to be his wife) and virtually overnight his company was out of business.
What’s the lesson? Thanks to technology, any and every communication you have with a client or prospective client can quickly go viral. And it's not just email. Calls can be recorded, letters can be scanned.
What was supposed to be a "private" email has now been spread worldwide, and has destroyed a business, all because an employee got a little snippy with a customer and put it in an email.
Just imagine if this was your employee and your business.
If you say "My office staff would never do that," re-read the above example, and remember...the office manager was THE OWNER'S WIFE!
Take Action: If you don't have office "rules of engagement" for writing communications to patients, do it now. Having formalized email etiquette is essential. ANY employee you have has the immediate power to create a problem just like the one above. I advise my clients to keep a folder of sample communications for office staff to follow. Also, realize that email is solid documentation: if you aren't willing to have it broadcast to the world, don't put it in an email. That Forward button is too close to the Send button to risk putting anything out there that could compromise your practice.
Even though there is no standard for email and it is still considered "informal", make sure you and your staff communicate in a professional manner at all times, through email or otherwise, because you never know who is going to see, read or hear your message.