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Email Etiquette and Disclaimers

Nov 1, 2010
by Kevin Zimmerman

Observing the rules of email etiquette can be a quick and painless component of marketing your products or services to existing and prospective customers. Learning a few basic tricks, including the use of disclaimers that can aid in legal protection, can help transform your company from an email novice into one that uses the form as an effective means of marketing. Crafting a solid, engaging email to customers sounds simple, but is sometimes easier said than done. Outgoing emails should be friendly and in some way enticing, but at the same time should maintain a level of professionalism and be to the point.

As with any regular "snail mail" letter, or your website, you should first take care to observe the standard rules of spelling and grammar when sending out email. Nothing can distract a potential customer more than a misspelling in the subject line or headline of an email. "Special Sale on Jewlry" shows carelessness that may be indicative of how you run your business. For this reason, even if you won spelling bees in school, it is wise to run an email through a spell-check program before sending it out en masse. The latest versions of Word and other word processing programs check documents for spelling and correct grammar usage automatically, and sometimes even change a word's spelling without being asked. Therefore, it is a good idea to scan the email one last time to ensure it says what you mean.

If you elect to begin each email with a personal salutation to each customer, i.e. "Hello Eva," be sure that the customer's name is spelled correctly. Mistaking "Eva" for "Ava" may or may not be perceived by the recipient as an egregious error, but better to be certain the first time around than to have to issue an apology later. It is partly for this reason that many companies prefer to go with a "Dear Valued Customer," opening.

Assuming that your email is essentially text, with few graphic components, use all capital letters sparingly, if at all. Online forums on a variety of sites are filled with people who feel that they can best make their point by WRITING IN ALL CAPS, and are just as filled with others complaining about "shouting." A block of text in all caps is even more difficult to read.

Using a plethora of exclamation points is similarly to be avoided, lest you give the impression that your offer is too good to be true. A few judiciously used exclamation points-"This is our biggest sale of the year!"; "We hope to see you again soon!"-are perfectly acceptable, but ending several sentences in such a manner is unnecessary and unprofessional.

Additionally, be wary of long paragraphs in your emails. Three or four sentences per paragraph should suffice, and even then may be too much if the sentences themselves are long. Elementary school English has taught us to start a new paragraph when introducing a new idea, but it is also good email practice to do so if you are still on the same idea but running long. Starting a new paragraph with "And" or "Also" breaks up the text easily without losing the reader.

The brave new world of texting and of personal emails has led to the common practice of including emoticons or "smileys" into communiqués ( :) :( and the like), as well as abbreviations like "C U L8r" and "TTFN" ("Ta-ta for now"). These may be cute and win points with underage nieces and nephews, but are not appropriate for email marketing. Unless your company specializes in selling something inherently cute, like cupcakes or dolls, keep the emoticons to a strict minimum, and forget the abbreviations altogether.

Who Are You and Why Are You Emailing Me?
Unless sending a transactional email such as thanking a customer for their order or sending a receipt, it is important to make sure that the recipient has asked to be placed on your email list. If your website requires registration, include a checkbox for registrants to indicate that they would like to receive special offers, newsletters, and so on from your company. Otherwise, your email may well be considered junk mail (spam) to them and their computer may even automatically classify your message as such, resulting in the recipient never even opening it.

Even if you are sure that the recipient has asked to be included, it is not a bad idea to note his or her request in your email, at least the first time. "You indicated that you would like to receive our latest news..." can be an effective opening line, or can be part of the disclaimer at the bottom of the message (see below). This aspect should also serve as a means of reminding someone who may not yet be a regular customer of who your company is and why you are contacting them; after all, some potential customers may be registering at dozens of websites a week.

Whatever your email message, try to keep it tight and to the point. Bulking up an email with handfuls of customer testimonies, product ratings, or other information that is not specifically related to the offer at hand is extraneous and time-consuming both to write and, more importantly, to read. For the same reason, links should be used extremely sparingly, especially to third-party sites where there is an article or product review that is germane to your subject. Once a prospect leaves your email and heads to a different website, it can be a real struggle to get them back.

Disclaimers and Disclosures
Disclaimers are also an important component to your email marketing because they not only make clear your responsibilities to the customer, but also serve as a means of legal protection. If you are on an email list from almost any kind of retailer, you are probably aware of the disclaimers that usually appear at the bottom of message.

"In-stock guarantee is not valid at Waldenbooks or Borders Express stores," notes a recent blast email from Borders. "Free shipping applies to standard shipping and handling expenses on Borders Search and Borders.com purchases shipped to a single address within the continental U.S., Alaska, or Hawaii only. Excludes priority shipping, express shipping, and orders shipped to international addresses. Free shipping does not apply to purchases of gift cards and used items offered via Borders Marketplace. Borders reserves the right to change or discontinue the in-stock guarantee at any time without notice."

That is certainly a mouthful, and it is doubtful that many Borders customers bother to read such a paragraph in its entirety, at least not more than once. However, this careful wording has almost certainly helped in any number of disputes with customers who may have balked at not receiving the advertised free shipping when they sent a gift to Aunt Mim in Budapest.

That the disclaimer notes the "free shipping" offer does not apply to international offers not once but twice, helps Borders when it comes to such debates, though it may not mollify Aunt Mim or her patron. The proviso noting that the store can discontinue or otherwise alter its "in-stock guarantee" whenever the whim strikes will not win the bookstore many fans either, but it should prevent Borders from any number of outraged legal actions.

And legal action is of course why such disclaimers exist. As of 2006, there were over 1 million practicing attorneys in the United States, according to the American Bar Association, more per capita than in any other country. Sixteen million civil cases were filed in state courts in 2002, with lawyers earning an estimated $40 billion in lawsuit awards. As those figures are already eight years old, one can only shudder to think what the numbers look like today.

While the website emaildisclaimers.com (www.emaildisclaimers.com) stresses that a disclaimer of any kind is not an absolute defense against possible lawsuits, it can be beneficial should legal action be taken. Email disclaimers may also be used for marketing purposes. Such uses can include a company's street address, URL, and/or slogan. Restating the expiration date of the offer mentioned in the body of an email can also be a useful addendum.

The term "email disclosure" can be used as a synonym for "email disclaimer," but it can also refer to a company-wide policy regarding the dissemination of email and email attachments. Wells Fargo Financial Advisors maintains an email disclosure page (https://www.wellsfargoadvisors.com/disclosures/email-disclosure.htm) that seeks to achieve just that.

Where to place a disclaimer or disclosure on a given email is also important to consider. Usually such statements come at the bottom of email message. Although placing such statements at the beginning of emails increases the likelihood that they will be read, unless you are disseminating financial or legal advice, it is typically better to put the disclaimer at the end of your message, especially if it is a standard "boilerplate" disclaimer that rarely changes. Nobody wants to wade through the same disclaimer every time they open an email from your company, especially if you sell typical household items and/or similar products. As with everything on the Internet, time is of the essence.

Emaildisclaimers.com also notes that excessively wordy disclaimers, even if they appear at the end of an email, can be antithetical to basic business goals. For this and other reasons, it is a good idea to clearly separate the disclaimer from the rest of the email's text with a line of asterisks or a different or smaller font and color.

Topic: Web Tech Tips

Related Articles: emails  spam 

Article ID: 1387

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