How to Destroy Your Reputation With One Email

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by Edward M. Yang

We all know by now that the shelf life of emails is a double-edged sword.

Sure, it’s great to archive so you can find historical information about how you dealt with so-and-so.

But increasingly, emails are coming back to haunt the original senders.

Almost every criminal case these days seems to involve damming email exchanges.

And the worst part? Unlike the spoken word, once an email is sent out, it seems to take on its own life.

Case in point, the now infamous exchange between a PR rep, a customer and a blogger.

To sum it up, a disgruntled customer was asking questions of a company’s PR rep. For some reason, the PR rep suddenly lost it and began berating the customer. Eventually the email thread involved a well-known industry reporter and the PR rep continued his personal assault.

You can read all the gory details of the actual emails at

Beyond the obvious that this PR rep’s career is likely over, imagine the damage done to the company the PR firm represented.

This is a company and PR firm’s worst nightmare. Once something like this latches on, it grows and becomes permanently entrenched on the Internet and the search engines.

And all over one single email exchange.

These days with more and more companies outsourcing functions such as marketing, PR and accounting to contractors or outside agencies, how they deal with your customers is more critical than ever.

Here are some tips to follow to ensure one lousy email doesn’t destroy your reputation:

1. Ensure all your employees, contractors and outside agencies fully understand the importance of good customer service.

2. Draw up simple guidelines of escalation procedures. If they cannot answer a question, politely refer them to someone who can assist.

3. Remember that a sent email is forever. Be careful in the words you choose. Don’t incriminate yourself. Don’t insult the other party. Don’t lie.

4. Better yet, if the subject is extremely sensitive, pick up the phone. For the most part, phone conversations don’t leave a trail as obvious as emails do.

5. Build into your contract a clause that allows you to randomly audit your team members’ emails that are customer-facing. This serves two purposes. One, it puts them on notice to be on their best behavior. Two, you can verify if they are being polite and adhering to the guidelines you set.

Remember, all the time and money you spend on branding, customer service and PR can be undone by one careless email.

In this case, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.

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