Who could forget the marquee hire company who described a client’s wedding as “cheap” and “tacky” in an email which went viral. It may have had us all laughing, but business-owners were both cringing and sighing with relief that it hadn’t happened to them.  But the potential damage of such an email, or something similar sent electronically in haste, could easily happen to your business.  You need to be aware of the extent to which emails might obligate or even damage your business.

Can you relate to Aimee?

Like many busy business owners Aimee uses email for the majority of her correspondence.  To convey a sense of professionalism Aimee includes a company logo on each of her emails.  To do this she uses one of the common functions of her email programme which inserts her company logo automatically.  Due to the nature of the email programme the logo doesn’t appear on Aimee’s screen when she drafts her emails so she is not reminded each time that it is there.  Aimee recently found herself in the following situation:

A customer asked in an email for a price on a product that Aimee didn’t normally stock but that she knew would be available from a supplier she used frequently.  Although she didn’t know the exact price she gave the customer a price indication by email, in the hope of securing the sale.  The price she indicated ended up being well below actual value but in the meantime the customer had ordered the product.  Because Aimee’s logo appeared in her email she was held to a price that reflected her indication and unfortunately made a loss on the sale.

Under the law, your logo by its very presence is probably enough to bind you to any guarantee made or agreement reached in an email.  So even if you don’t physically type your name or your company name you could be stuck performing what you promised in your email.

Even your email address that appears at the top of the recipient’s email as “Sender” can be enough.  Together with some other behaviour that suggests that the contents of the email amount to an agreement or guarantee, the appearance of your email address may prevent you from reneging on a promise or indication you’ve given.

Those of you with employees might be particularly concerned about this because of the difficulties and cost of policing every email an employee sends.  Not only might their emails commit you to something you’re not even aware of, but they might also tarnish your business reputation and lose you more than a few bucks on a quick sale.

The marquee hire company actually got off fairly lightly.  An email rebuke to a customer sent in the heat of the moment can result in far worse than the need to publicly apologise on your website.  It could result in a defamation action against you or your company and cost you dearly.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Carefully word any price or delivery indications to make it clear that confirmation of an actual price or delivery date will follow.  Avoid responding by email in the heat of the moment.  Keep your responses direct, accurate and non-emotive.

It is important to remember that, despite the speed and ease with which you can respond to clients, each email is official correspondence from your company.  Treat all your emails as being a typed letter on your company letterhead and as having the potential to legally bind you.

*Note: Names have been changed.