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One Quick Way to Frustrate Customers and Friends

My husband is on a mailing list for information about upcoming stamp shows. This week he got an email announcement and saw his email address in a clump of at least a hundred others. All were there in a long list, a gold mine for people wanting to sell stamps.

The next email he was copied on read something like this:

Take me off your mailing list since you can’t protect my privacy.

You know what went wrong: The sender put the entire mailing list on the CC line rather than BCC. Everyone could see all the addresses–and use them.

And one of those recipients had had enough–they wanted to get off the list and used Reply All to express their frustration. That’s one potential customer gone, and others alerted to the situation.


I get caught in similar email (ab)use situations every week in social communications. I’ll get an invitation to a volunteer meeting, with my name on the CC line. Then I’ll get Reply All email copies from a dozen people saying they will come to the meeting, with another few saying they can’t attend and the reason.

I’ll get copies of people’s “See you there!” and “Looking forward to it” and “Me too.”

I’ll get copies that say “Thank you!” and “Feel better!”

It’s not that I don’t care about other people. It’s that I can’t care from my bursting email inbox.


If you are thinking that sometimes it’s helpful to see everyone’s replies, I agree with you. But those times are rare. If you have a burning example, please share it in the comments.

If you feel that recipients need to know who received the message, describe the group in the email. For example, begin with “To All Social Media Volunteers” or “Dear Committee Members.” You can also have a sentence do the job: “I’m sending this message to everyone who has signed up for the management retreat.”


If you want to frustrate customers, friends, and others, put their names and email addresses on the CC line with a huge collection of other ones.  Share their contact information, and force them to receive unnecessary replies from strangers and acquaintances.

If you care about your customers, friends, and others, put their names and email addresses on the BCC line for a group message in which they don’t need to reply to one another. Protect their privacy.

Remember: Email is not Facebook. We often don’t want to see (receive) other people’s comments.

What’s your view? Please share your experiences.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “One Quick Way to Frustrate Customers and Friends”

  • Dear Lynn,

    So true!

    For businesses or people conducting messages for foundations or such, there is also the option to use a mailservice program.
    This website/blog has made a handy list:

    I do volunteer work for a small foundation and we use Mailchimp. It is not very hard to learn and gives lots of options to get creative with. It is free for under 2000 subscribers.

    (If I made any mistakes please educate me 🙂 )

    Love your posts, Lynn.

    With regards,


  • Hi Yvonne,

    Thank you for mentioning the email marketing programs and providing the link. Those services could be a great solution for writing to groups of customers.

    We also need to work on the way we think about the communication and ask, “Do all these individuals want/need to see one another’s contact information and replies?” Usually the answer is no.

    Thanks for your thoughtful words, Yvonne.


  • Dear Lynn,
    I agree with you. Most of the people who are working with me do the same mistake and I receive a bunch of unnecessary replies from others. Thank you very much for highlighting this issue, a lot of friends of mine usually read you because I have introduced you to them.
    Bandula R

  • Hello Bandula,

    How wise of you to encourage your friends to read this blog. Let me know privately if you want me to write about a subject they need to learn!


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