There is an insurance company in Germany that has embraced email marketing completely, to the extent of having auto replies to emails. This is behaviour that is encouraged by all commentators. However, there is the occasional banana skin to be wary of, one that they were unaware of.
One of their customers cancelled insurance via email, a practice their company allowed, the chap asking for acknowledgement of receipt. This, as you will appreciate, generated the requested auto reply. All well and good you might think. But no.
The recipient noted that on the bottom of the auto response email was an advert for a weather forecast SMS system app. This was followed by the habitual ‘This is an automatically generated email. Do not reply’ sort of thing. Except in German of course.
The recipient was of the opinion that this was email marketing and against the law as no prior consent had been given. Insurance and weather forecasts would not be considered as similar matters even by the most generous. He complained, as was his right, to the company’s Data Controller via email, stating that this was email marketing.
Into the chap’s inbox came an automatic reply which contained the same advert. This, he felt, was rubbing it in so did what many of us would have done in similar circumstances and complained again, unfortunately via email so received his third automatic response and, obviously, his third advert.
There is a certain inevitability about the sequence that is funny, even above laughing at other’s misfortune. The guilty delight at the disaster is something that we might enjoy without admitting it. As long as it happens to someone else that is.
He complained to the company, fortunately by phone, that he was being bombarded by unsolicited email marketing but he was told that the company was of a different opinion. No apology resulted so, to the recipient, the only option was the civil courts.
The case went from finding for the complainant, then on appeal against, then against again and finally the Supreme Court found for him.
The decision is specific to Germany but the implication is that it is a pointer to what might occur in the UK. We won’t know until someone is taken to court here.
The decision was obviously close and in the final one it was mentioned that the complainant had made his intentions clear, albeit to an automated system.
What this demonstrates is that you should have systems that will incorporate checks to ensure you do not put yourself at risk. One route might be to have alternative emails addresses for different reasons for communication. You might consider a bland auto-reply for complaints and termination of agreements, although one which is still friendly.
Remember too that all correspondents will not be on your email marketing list so any advert in a general auto response might well come back to haunt you.
Auto replies are a very valuable resource but it needs to be used with care. There is little by way of case law in this country and you do not want your company’s errors to help your competitors.