20 Fatal Online Business Etiquette Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Online Business Etiquette

Oscar Wilde said, “The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.”

Simply? Business etiquette matters.

A lot.

What’s more, many relationships today exist entirely online.

So, without helpful non-verbal cues like body language, the chances of making a faux pas are that much greater.

And, the stakes are high.

Peter Post, director of The Emily Post Institute, said, “Other people’s opinions matter and in the professional world — their perception of you will be critical to your success.”


Etiquette helps to build relationships, and good relationships are vital to your business success.

Associate Justice of The Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, said, “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.”

So, how do you avoid damaging these all-important relationships?

In this article, we share 20 fatal online business etiquette mistakes to avoid — and what you can do instead.

Let’s jump right in!

General Professionalism and Business Etiquette

Business Etiquette Mistake #1: Failing to Adapt

You have to know your audience.

Because the way you communicate should very much depend on who you’re communicating with.

In other words:

Emails to your customers and Tinder messages should read very differently…

Workplace expert and author Lindsey Pollak, says, “Write for the person who will be reading it — if they tend to be very polite and formal, write in that language. The same goes for a receiver who tends to be more informal and relaxed.”

Business Etiquette Mistake #2: Not Keeping Your Word

Publilius Syrus said, “A good reputation is more valuable than money.”

So, always keep to your word.

For example, you might have a 24-hour sale that ends at midnight and is going extremely well.

24 Hour Flash Sale

If you’re tempted to extend the promotion and make some more sales…


If you break your word, your customers will lose trust in you.

And, the next time you have a 24-hour sale, your customers won’t believe the sale will end at midnight, so they’ll feel no urgency to buy.

Marketing consultant Jeff Weinberger said, “The single biggest mistake companies make when they are seeking repeat or return business is breaking promises.”

So, do what you say.

Consistently following through will do wonders for your reputation.

Business Etiquette Mistake #3: Not Using People’s Names

Names are important.

As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

So, always use someone’s name when you greet them and say their name occasionally throughout the conversation.

Address people by name in your emails — including your customers.

No one likes to receive emails that begin, “Dear customer”…

Dear Customer Email

Business Etiquette Mistake #4: Using the Wrong Communication Medium

Sometimes the problem with your email is that it’s an email.

In particular, you should address delicate topics in person, or during a phone or video call.


Because emotional deftness is nearly impossible through email.

Writer and tech commentator, Professor Clay Shirky said: “When you communicate with a group you only know through electronic channels, it’s like having functional Asperger’s Syndrome–you are very logical and rational, but emotionally brittle.”

Also, you’re less likely to persuade over email.

One study found that you’re 34 times more likely to get a yes when you ask someone the exact same request in person.

So, if necessary, pick up the phone.

This is especially important for complex topics. Also, you should never use email for last minute cancellations, in case the recipient doesn’t receive the message in time.

On the other hand, video calls can take a lot of time.

Could you say what you need to faster and more conveniently over email?

Consider each medium of communication, and evaluate which would be best for your message.

Business Etiquette Mistake #5: Assuming How People Prefer to Communicate

If you’re unsure which communication medium is best, ask.

Some people hate email.

Like Harriet Butterfield, PR and social client manager at The Honey Partnership, who says that email doesn’t work well with the millennial startup mentality because, “It’s slow and passive, instead of quick and proactive.”

Butterfield continues, “Email is the last resort and only a way to send official documents.”

Others hate instant messaging and prefer all communication through email, or the phone.

Like Monica Karpinski, founder, and editor of The Femedic, who uses email to organize her entire life.

“Basically without my inbox, I have no clue what I’m doing that day, or where I’m at for certain projects,” says Karpinski.

The point is, everyone’s different.

So, don’t assume that your supplier, customers, or partners will want to communicate in the same way that you do.

Don't Assume Gif

Business Etiquette When Dealing With Customers

Business Etiquette Mistake #6: Taking Criticism Badly

Customers are going to share feedback and reviews.

And, not all of it will be good.

Author Norman Vincent Peale said, “The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Don’t be that person.

Accept constructive criticism gladly, and take it as a valuable opportunity to improve your business.

Listen to Bill Gates when he said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Business Etiquette Mistake #7: Criticizing Others

Similarly, don’t criticize others unless it’s absolutely necessary or, they specifically ask for feedback.

Even then, highlight some positive things before you mention the negative.

And, be kind about it.

American journalist Judith Martin said, “When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.”

Bottom-line? Good etiquette is always positive.

So, before you send your email, ask yourself, “How will it feel to receive this criticism?” and “Will it be interpreted as helpful?”

Business Etiquette Mistake #8: Arguing Over Refunds

Reputation is everything.

Which is why shoe store, Zappos, offers free returns no questions asked.

Easy Returns on Zappos

Rob Siefker, director of customer loyalty, said,  “Providing this service is an investment we make in order to provide the best possible service for our customers.”

And this investment is worthwhile.

A massive 75% of companies believe customer service is a way to differentiate from the competition.

So, if a customer isn’t happy with your service and wants a refund, give it to them.

And, be as polite and helpful as you can while communicating with them.

Email Business Etiquette

Business Etiquette Mistake #9: Writing Long Emails When They’re Not Needed

Nobody needs more email.

A Carleton University survey found that over half of respondents reported high levels of work overload and stress, much of it associated with reading and answering emails.

So, get to the point.

If possible, you should state the purpose of the email within the first two sentences.

Workplace expert and author Lindsey Pollak, says, “The person reading your email should not have to dig through several paragraphs in order to figure out what you’re asking.”

Write concisely.

Also, use lots of white space and bullet points to make your emails easier to read.

People appreciate it when you’re considerate with their time.

Business Etiquette Mistake #10: Failing to Take Timing Into Account

The advantage of email is that you can send it at any time, and the recipient can respond whenever it’s convenient for them, right?

Not quite.

The smartest emailers know that often the timing of an email matters — and not just if you’re sending an email that’s marketing something to your email list.


Because in many industries, people expect email to be answered immediately.

Therefore, sending an email can create a demand on the recipient.

Amber Rae in Fast Company writes in Fast Company, “Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.”

So, evaluate whether or not the message is urgent.

Does it need to be replied to immediately?

Also, you can also use web tools like Boomerang to schedule your emails to send at a specified time.

Boomerang Web App

Business Etiquette Mistake #11: Hitting “Reply All”

Don’t you just hate it when someone adds you to a mass email, and then people include you — and everyone else — in their replies…

According to SaneBox’s internal data, the average inbox contains only 38% important, relevant emails.

This means that 62% of emails in the average inbox are not important…

So, don’t send emails to people who don’t want them.

Always default to “Reply,” not “Reply All.”

And, before hitting “Reply All” or adding names to the Cc or Bcc lines, ask yourself, “Who really needs to receive this email?”

Take the time to send your messages to the right people.

Business Etiquette Mistake #12: Discussing Private Matters in Written Communication

We’ve all heard stories about a ‘private’ email that ended up being published online.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Before you commit what you’re saying to words, decide whether the matter you’re discussing is a public one or something that should be addressed privately.

Judith Kallos, the author of ‘Email Etiquette Made Easy,’ said, “Ask yourself if the topic being discussed is something you’d write on company letterhead or post on a bulletin board for all to see before clicking ‘send.’”

Also, be careful with confidential information in emails.

Peter Post said,  “Refrain from discussing confidential information in emails such as someone’s tax information or the particulars of a highly-sensitive business deal. Should the email get into the wrong person’s hands, you could face serious — even legal — repercussions.”

Remember, email correspondence lasts forever.

Business Etiquette Mistake #13: Sending Emails When You’re Angry or Upset

Similarly, don’t ever fire off a heated email reprimanding a supplier, or berating a difficult customer.

Although it might feel satisfying in the moment, it will almost certainly land you in hot water further down the line.

So, make sure you keep a clear head when writing emails.

Get into the habit of saving emails as drafts when you’re angry, or upset, and coming back to them the day after.

In the words of business management writer Tom Peters, said, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.”

Business Etiquette Mistake #14: Hitting Reply Without Changing the Subject Line

This can quickly become confusing.

“Do not hesitate to change the subject as soon as the thread or content of the email chain changes,” says productivity expert Peggy Duncan.

Your email subject line should always match the message.

Also, make sure it gets to the point.

Peter Post said, “Expect that any email with a cute, vague, or obscure subject will get trashed.”

Business Etiquette Mistake #15: Using Overly Casual Language

Talking in emojis is fun.

But, it’s not good business etiquette.


Researchers from BGU, University of Haifa, and Amsterdam University found that including emojis in work emails may make your colleagues think you are less competent.

And, this can make them less likely to share information with you.

Depending on the situation, a smiley face might be okay. But, use emojis and exclamation points sparingly.

Lindsey Pollak, said “The maximum number of exclamation points in a business email? One. Otherwise, you risk looking childish and unprofessional.”

Also, it’s not the noughties anymore.

So, it’s never acceptable to use old-school text speak, like “4 u,” or “gr8”


Don’t curse, and always proofread your emails. Especially when writing on mobile devices, as autocorrect can sometimes be fatal…

To make life easier, install a free web app like the Grammarly extension.

Grammarly Web App

This software checks all of your emails for mistakes and offers suggestions on how to improve your writing.

Phone and Video Call Business Etiquette

Business Etiquette Mistake #16: Being Late

William Shakespeare wrote in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”

William Shakespeare - The Merry Wives of Windsor

So, always be on time — or early.

This is just common courtesy,

But, as simple as this sounds, it’s amazing how often people don’t do it.

Being late isn’t just an inconvenience to the other person, it’s incredibly disrespectful.

Because it tells them that you value your time more than you value theirs.

So, you should always give yourself enough time to ensure you won’t be late — even if your meeting runs over, or you can’t find your destination, or you hit traffic, or…

Plan for any unforeseen circumstances to arise.

Worse-case scenario?

You’ll be early, and you can catch up on some emails on your phone.

That being said, if you are late, make sure you give other people as much advance notice as possible so they can make the best of the situation.

As soon as you know you are going to be late, call or text ahead to let them know.

It’s like the saying goes, “5 minutes early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.”

Business Etiquette Mistake #17 Interrupting Other People

No one likes to be interrupted.

Interrupting someone gives the impression that you don’t care about their opinion.

Yet, sometimes it can be hard to hold back and let others finish their thoughts.


In his book, ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,’ Marshall Goldsmith refers to some ‘transaction flaws’ that contribute to the risk of interrupting:

  • Winning: The need to win may cause you to speak impetuously to try to get the upper hand.
  • Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add your two cents to every discussion makes it hard to keep quiet.
  • Telling the world how smart you are: Trying to prove you’re smart may cause you to interject your commentary too often.
  • Not listening: A passive-aggressive form of interruption because the speaker is unlikely to finish what they’re saying when they realize you’re not engaged in the dialog.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There - Marshall Goldsmith

No matter how passionate you get, or how right you think you are, try to let others speak without breaking in.

If you’re on the phone with a supplier or customer, and you’re tempted to cut in, write down your thoughts and take a deep breath.

Then, wait until they’re finished before you share your views.

Business Etiquette Mistake #18: Getting Distracted

Chances are, you’ve talked to someone at a networking event who’s clearly lost interest in you.

Master networker and author Keith Ferrazzi explains, “There is nothing worse than the smarmy eye-darter who’s constantly looking around the room for someone more important to talk to.”

So, always pay full attention to whoever you’re speaking to.

Richard Branson said, “Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.”

Stay focused on them — regardless of how much influence they may or may not have.

It’s amazing how people “light up” when they feel fully engaged and listened to. That’s why it’s a great idea to get their contact details and follow up over the next few days. Email tools like Right Inbox can help automate this process.

Business Etiquette Mistake #19: Not Preparing Properly

More and more people are working from home.

Last year, 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely.

If you’re building your own ecommerce business, chances are you’ll be taking business calls at  home.

And, wherever you take your calls, you’ll want to appear professional and organized.

So, before you get on the phone, make sure you’re somewhere quiet.

Shut the door and make sure you won’t be disturbed by your partner, children, housemates, dog, etc.

And, if you’re having a video call, make sure you’re dressed appropriately.

Also, check the area of the room that’s in camera shot. Remove any inappropriate or overly personal items, and make sure the area is clean and tidy.

You really don’t want your new supplier to see your messy bedroom.

Business Etiquette Mistake #20: Not Smiling

Your facial expressions and hand movements play a huge role in how others perceive you.

A study conducted in Sweden found that smiling really is contagious.

What’s more, smiles make a person seem more attractive, sociable and confident. And people who smile more are more likely to get a promotion.

So when you’re on a video call, smile!

Also, smiling and nodding shows that you’re actively engaged and listening to the other person, and that you care about what they have to say.


Online business etiquette is an important part of growing your business.

Economist Thomas Sowell once said, “Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.”

So work to improve your business etiquette through practice.

The next time you write an email to a customer or talk on the phone with a supplier, ask yourself if you could use any of these tips to improve your relationships.

Oh, and another thing…

Don’t listen to Oscar Wilde, when he said, “The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.”


Because Emily Post, who literally wrote the book on etiquette in 1922, said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.

“If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

So, how many of these online business etiquette tips do you already use? Are there any we’ve missed?

Let us know in the comments below — we read all of them!

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