When Good Email Goes Bad

It's not that you make mistakes, but how you respond that matters

by Jason Falls |

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Megan Feltes, a member of the content team for the email marketing and communications company Emma.

How to deal with mistakes, failures and assorted slip-ups

Email may ultimately be sent and tracked by machines and robots, but it’s still a human endeavor at heart. And as such, email is vulnerable to human error. B2B campaigns are no exception, and errors in emails to customers can feel especially magnified. No matter how many times you read (and re-read) your email copy, a mistake may sneak through. It could be a simple misspelling or a glaringly incorrect link. Did 6,000 recipients see the wrong event date on your email invite? Yikes. Or you could do everything perfectly, but still experience unexpected fallout. Did your website crash after a free shipping offer caused a mad rush? Double yikes. While possibly embarrassing and humbling, mistakes are not the end of the world. Email’s strength lies in its innate timeliness and flexibility.

When Good Email Goes Bad
via Meredith Atwater - opensourceway

We’ve all hit send and quickly realized that something wasn’t quite right. Whether you made a simple typo or a more involved mistake, how you respond is key. In many cases, you might not have to build an entirely new campaign. Instead, quickly correct and resend a copy of the original email while identifying the issue upfront. Adjust the subject line and add a short message at the top of the campaign, identifying what’s been corrected in case some of your readers opened the faulty version. Email recipients have become used to seeing “correction” subject lines in their inbox. In fact, if you catch the mistake and send the corrected version quickly, people will most likely skip over the first message anyway. If it’s a situation that takes a longer recovery time and a more in-depth reworking of your initial campaign, consider drawing more attention to what’s different by sending a separate, dedicated apology email.

Minimizing email mistakes & making good on your apology

As you smooth over the situation, here are a few more things to consider:

  • Try to avoid mistakes in the first place. While this knowledge may not feel great post-mistake, it’s something to keep in mind for future campaigns. Never send an email newsletter or promotion — no matter how insignificant it might seem — without getting some other eyes on it first. Create a special group of test email recipients who you trust to double check personalization, links, spelling and even inbox rendering. (Most email service providers, including Emma, allow and actually encourage test emails.)
  • Keep your correction message clear. Address the mistake in the subject line and be specific about what was incorrect in the copy. If it’s simply a quick followup to a small mistake, don’t add more content beyond the note up top. If it’s a dedicated apology email, resist the urge to clutter the message with irrelevant information.
  • Have a sense of humor. While you shouldn’t go outside of your normal brand voice, it’s okay to laugh at yourself a little. This example from the Workshop for Youth and Families pairs a humorous subject line — “In our haste to cut and paste…” — with a fun image to bring a bit of levity to their admission of a mistake.
  • Give a peace offering. Consider offering a small discount or extending a special offer. An unexpected deal along with your mea culpa will surprise and delight your recipients and make them forget the mistake all together.

And realize that an email snafu may actually be a happy mistake. Unfortunate moments can be useful in reinforcing your authenticity and vision, and email is the perfect channel to spread the word. Recently, Ohio-based Jeni’s Ice Cream sent an email announcing that new cake-infused flavors were coming soon. When the flavors didn’t appear in stores on schedule, they sent a followup email with a personal message from owner Jeni Britton Bauer. She warmly explained that the batches just weren’t up to snuff and that she wanted to make sure her customers got the best quality — so the wait would be a little longer. Jeni’s is known for impeccable quality, and the apology message assured customers that the delay, while a short-term letdown, was actually a good thing for cake lovers in the long run.

An email mistake doesn’t have to be a PR nightmare

What if your mistake goes beyond a few typos or inaccurate details? If you’ve encountered a more serious problem that affects your customers’ experience, money or future loyalty, it’s even more important to address the situation.

  • Be prompt and honest about what happened. If ignoring the situation would be bad, lying about it would be even worse. Your email subscribers are one of your brand’s greatest assets and they’ve given you their trust in the form of their email address. Don’t abuse or ignore it. Get out in front of the issue by sending a prompt, forthcoming message. You may even build stronger relationships and trust in the process.
  • Say you’re sorry and mean it. Your readers expect you to take the mistake seriously. Be transparent about what you’re doing to fix the problem or prevent it from happening again. A little empathy and a human voice go a long way, too. A personal message from a staff member is more meaningful than a blanket statement from your marketing team.
  • Expect a few disgruntled responses. If you nail steps one and two, you will hopefully head off most (if any) backlash. But, no matter how honest and sincere you are, you won’t make everyone happy. Stay available and responsive. Make sure responses to your “from address” go to a monitored inbox so nothing falls through the cracks. If someone takes it out of email and to social media, be accommodating, but stay on message. Don’t police your pages or delete comments. Respond, shake it off and move on.

And, remember, even the best laid plans — and email marketing campaigns — will sometimes go awry. Keep a level head, and have a recovery plan. Your recipients will be forgiving. After all, they’re human, too.

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Megan Feltes - EmmaMegan is part of Emma’s content team in our Nashville office. One of our resident bakers, Megan is always searching for new ways to incorporate Nutella into recipes. She’s also a yoga enthusiast and bears an uncanny resemblance to Julianne Moore. Read more from Megan on the Emma blog.

Emma’s a web-based communications service that’s taken a unique approach to email marketing and surveys. We think it should be easy to create, send and track emails and surveys. It should be designed for you. And it should even be sharable for your audience and fun to use. We’re all about style and results, and it’s why more than 30,000 small and mid-size businesses, non-profits and agencies have chosen Emma to power their email marketing newsletters and campaigns. Learn more about Emma and try us for free.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).