Just about every marketer has at least one horror story about an email send that went wrong and was deployed with some sort of error. You may have heard about the recent Virgin Blue experience which has been thoroughly covered in mainstream and marketing media.
Not all email mistakes are a cause for great concern or warrant the deployment of an apology email. The most common mistakes tend to be typos in subject lines and email copy. These might be picked up by the recipient but at the end of the day they won't impact significantly on the business or the recipient.
There are however those mistakes that may impact significantly on the business and the recipient. Such was the case with Virgin Blue. The potential cost of honouring the offer they mistakenly sent to all their subscribers might have extended into the millions of dollars. Not to mention the disappointment their customers would have felt after being notified that in fact they were not entitled to a Gold Class upgrade.
The best way to avoid having to send apology emails is to not make the mistake in the first place. This means having processes in place which check and double check all of your email components to ensure that all is as it should be when you deploy.
When an email mistake is made however it is important to assess the situation and its impact on the business in a rational and well thought out manner in order to achieve a good outcome and avoid making the situation worse.
Taking early action
Try to contain the problem as soon as you learn of the mistake. If you notice a serious issue during the deployment process try to halt the send. This will reduce the number of subscribers being exposed to the error. In addition, if the situation requires an apology email it will also limit the number of subscribers you have to apologise to.
Knowing when to apologise
Apology emails don't need to be deployed after every email mistake. There are situations when they are appropriate and others when they are not required. A general rule of thumb is that if the mistake is likely to result in lost revenue or cause significant brand damage then an apology email is necessary. If the error is likely to mislead, confuse, anger, insult or otherwise alarm customers then this also warrants a correction or apology email.
Spelling mistakes and broken images don't rise to the level of needing to bother your subscribers with an additional email. Instead learn from these mistakes rather than taking additional action. In the case of Virgin Blue, customers were seriously misled by the offer in the email which called for an apology email to be sent and a correction to be made.
Tips for a good apology
You always say it will never happen to you and I sincerely hope that it doesn't, but in case it ever does here are a few tips you can refer to for a good apology:
Give them a reason to forgive you
Nothing says sorry like a discount voucher (or something similar). The effectiveness of your apology email can be greatly increased by offering your subscribers a small compensatory gesture to win back their love.
Make it clear in the subject line that you're apologising
Some marketers have reported that apology emails are their best performing emails so make it clear in your subject lines that you are apologising. If you're including a discount voucher or some other offer in the email you may see increased conversion rates.
Humour vs Seriousness
There is a time and a place for both and it really does depend on the severity of the mistake, the impact it has on the customer and the personality of your brand.
Virgin notified subscribers of their email mistake with a " Friday the 13th Strikes" headline which compliments their brand personality, known to be a little cheeky and fun. People appreciate it when you can poke fun at yourself and a little light humour can help to lessen the severity of the mistake.
Have it signed by an executive
When the mistake is really bad and impacts the customer greatly then have the email signed by an executive. For example a Managing Director, Head of Customer Service or other department head. Doing this shows your subscribers that you're taking the matter seriously.
Don't make a mistake in your apology email!
This is crucial to maintain credibility with your subscribers. This tip might seem a little obvious but mistakes happen and when you're in a highly stressful situation because you made a mistake in the previous email other errors may pass through your gauntlet.
Always have a second set of eyes go over your deployment checklist which should include a copy, subject line and email list check as a minimum.
Best of Luck!
I hope that you never get to own an email send horror story but if you find yourself in that situation consult the advice above and your subscribers will be more likely to fogive (oops….) forgive you