Saying 'I'm Sorry': Keys To An Effective Email Correction Process

"Mistake" emails are simply a fact of life for digital marketers. The question isn't "If" but "When?," "How often?," "How severe?" and "How will you respond?"

"Mistake" emails can be as simple as a glaring typo, wrong pricing, a bad link or bad subject line. Or, they can be near-disastrous by sending out the wrong offer to your entire list.

Another mistake, however, is not being prepared for the inevitable. Creating an email "disaster plan" is a necessary strategy in any email program. Knowing what steps to take when a mistake happens will help you minimize the damage from being caught off-guard and avoid future mistakes.

Like many Email Insider readers, I've had the pleasure of sending and correcting emails gone awry. I've also advised clients on their approaches to corrections and apology emails.

So, here are my 13 elements of a good email correction program:



1. Discover the mistake or problem. Monitor "reply-to" addresses, social media like Twitter and key metrics such as conversions and registrations. The faster you uncover the problem, the sooner you can respond and minimize any negative impact.

2. Assess the potential impact. Was it a simple goof, like a misspelled word, or a critical error that could affect your respondents' ability to buy or take a key action? Or, was it embarrassing, such as leaving in a swear word from the proof email subject line?

As early as possible, determine whether and how you need to respond.

3. Focus on your response. Save the blame for later. Focus your team's energies on the response process and needs of your customers and subscribers before worrying about assigning blame.

4. Create an action plan. If you must respond, outline the key message points to make in your correction email, including any possible incentives or other make-good actions.

Map out which departments of your company might be affected by the mistake or need to be involved in the correction/apology process. These can include customer service, sales, ecommerce or corporate communications.

5. Keep management and other stakeholders in the loop. You obviously don't need to tell the CEO about a simple typo (unless it's extremely embarrassing or misleading). You likely will need to get management support if your make-good efforts will have a financial impact (offering discounts, special pricing, offer extensions).

6. Act quickly. You should be able to turn around a correction email within an hour or two if you simply need to send  a corrected version of the original email and brief note.

More complex mistakes might take a day or more to fix. In those cases, a quick "We are working on fixing the issue" email is a good bet.

7. Consider responding only to those affected. Not all subscribers will be affected by the mistake. If a product's price on your Web site differs from the price in your email, consider sending the correction email only to the people who clicked on the affected product link.

Create a trigger-based correction email that is sent only to recipients who click on the specific product link.

8. Apologize in other channels. If the error is significant enough, you'll probably want to use your other channels to apologize, post the correction or provide updates. These include your Web site, social media and blog.

9. Use a personal tone that matches your recipients' expectations. Your apology should reflect your company or corporate personality. Be humble, especially if the mistake could jeopardize your subscribers' faith and trust in your brand.

Use humor if the mistake lends itself to it. But be sure your humor is directed at yourself and doesn't sound as if you're taking customers' concerns lightly.

10. Find a way to turn the error into an opportunity. The combination of an original error-laden email followed by a well-executed correction/apology email might increase your total revenue, conversions or other goals. (Of  course, deliberately sending erroneous emails is not a good long-term strategy.)

Design your correction email to support the original email's goal. Margins aside, an additional incentive in the correction email can drive incremental conversions. 

11. Proof the correction email carefully. Pull in people outside your team to review your message for typos and bad links and to be sure the tone and content convey your desired impact. Sending a correction email with another error is clearly something to avoid. Also, send a "proof" email first and include the other departments that might be affected on the distribution.

12. Measure the impact. Measure both process metrics (e.g., opens, clicks, unsubscribes and spam complaints) and output metrics (conversions, downloads, registrations, etc.) on your mistake and corrected/apology emails.

Analyze whether your approach and any incentives generated positive results. Also, understand how the two emails affected unsubscribe and spam complaint rates. A markedly higher-than-normal rate means that your response did not line up with expectations.

13. Learn from the mistake. Once the dust settles, determine how it happened. Was it a simple user error from lack of training on your email platform? A poor review/proofing process? Did someone circumvent your standard process? If needed, revise your creative and production processes to minimize future mistakes.

Now it's your turn. Did I miss any steps that you've used to manage corrections or apologies? Also, please share any nightmare situations or corrections that you turned into positives.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

6 comments about "Saying 'I'm Sorry': Keys To An Effective Email Correction Process".
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  1. Frances Dugan from Permanent General Companies, Inc., April 22, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    Great advice Loren! Having a plan for when a "mistake" email goes out is key.

  2. Mary Dworin from dmg world media, April 22, 2010 at 1:25 p.m.

    I didn't have a plan...thought if 5 people looked at it we'd be okay, but we sent out a HUGE mistake yesterday which our clients ( A LOT of them) called us about. Your email came in AS I WAS WRITING the apology email! Thanks for the timing and the great advice!

  3. Chad White from Litmus, April 22, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.

    Interestingly, most of the apology emails I've seen lately have apologized for website issues (site being down, cart being down, site slowness, etc.) rather than for errors in the previous email--although certainly I see those as well.

  4. Shane Mang from Intrawest, April 22, 2010 at 2:33 p.m.

    Great insight.

    I think #9 is a key point. Keep it human, we all make mistakes. If you apologize like you would to a friend it shows you're a person, not just a faceless corporation. Your readers will appreciate the honesty.

    Maybe, it can even create an opportunity to build your customer relationship.

  5. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, April 23, 2010 at 11:40 a.m.

    Chad: Great point you are absolutely right - I'm seeing the same thing...the impetus for my column was correcting or apologizing for mistaken emails - but the concepts of apologizing, regardless of the the channel where the mistake occurred, should still supply.

  6. Sigal Brent from Ind, May 5, 2014 at 2:18 a.m.

    Great article. Just a tip - I'm using for proofreading. Works great.

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