This love affair with sending apology emails for the most trivial of transgressions is perplexing. It could be that marketers are afraid of being "outed' by fans and friends on various social media platforms. Although who would take the time to post -- or even read -- about being offended by being asked to update a driver's license that has not yet expired, as happened with one of the emails we saw?
Another explanation may be that marketers have a false sense of what's important to their customers. As Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, "Apology is only egotism wrong side out." It seems that an email apologizing for sending birthday specials that don't coincide with the receiver's birthday fits this description (another recent example). Special coupons and it's not my birthday, how offensive!
Of course, there are good reasons to send an apology email. An apology is needed if there is the chance that secure data has been compromised, or if it appears that way. Mint.com, a place to manage your money and finances online, did a good job of addressing this using humor, but then failed in execution when the company sent a half-dozen of the same apology emails to recipients:
Regardless of the reason for these apology-happy emails, there is an easy step that marketers can take to avoid them in the first place: testing. By testing emails, marketers can catch typos, prevent broken links, and ensure that data feeds through correctly and segmentation works. If marketers tested every email, this would virtually eliminate the need for apology emails.
If you must send an apology email, a few best practices are available to guide your decision-making.
1. Do you really need to send an apology email? Ask yourself how severe the error is. Is it simply a typo or a wrong coupon code -- or will recipients view this as a major mistake, such as their personal data being compromised? If the error is minor, let it go.
2. Be brief. Apology emails should be concise and to the point. Do it with one communication.
3. Match your brand. Apology emails should resemble your brand in color, structure and logos so you don't create even more confusion.
4. Take responsibility. Pushing the blame for the gaffe off on a service provider doesn't make you look better. It appears the service provider is not being monitored appropriately, which creates even more issues with credibility, as in the email below:
5. Send only to those who are affected. There's no reason to apologize to your entire email list if only a segment received the wrong email. Look at tracking reports to determine which recipients were affected.
Mistakes happen. It is how they are managed that determines their impact on customers.