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How to Handle More Serious E-mail Mishaps

  |  December 15, 2008   |  Comments

What if your e-mail has an inaccurate offer or mistaken information? Second in a two-part series.

In my last column, we talked about some of the most common e-mail mishaps: incorrect subject lines, missing sender addresses, and broken links. Today we'll discuss two mistakes that can be even more serious: inaccurate product offers and mistaken information. The stakes are higher with these, because they jeopardize revenue and your company's goodwill with customers.

We'll use the same three questions as the basis of our situation analysis:

  • What effect did this have on the recipient?

  • What is the potential downside?

  • Does the potential downside justify action?

Wrong or Incomplete Offer

This is probably the stickiest mishap you can have. A wrong or incomplete offer can have serious revenue potential if it causes you to lose money when people try to take you up on the offer. That justifies action, in response to the last of our three key questions.

Pizza Hut is our case study here. By the time I got to the original e-mail, the images had been disabled (a good move if the offer appeared in the images):

pizza hut wrong offer

Although the sender address wasn't branded "Pizza Hut" (I hid the domain name to protect the sender's address, but it didn't include the brand), the brand did appear in the e-mail itself. Even with images blocked, the copy offered one large pizza for $0.99 and a second large pizza for just $. What a great deal!

The original e-mail appeared in my inbox at 7:05 p.m. on a Wednesday; the second e-mail was delivered two days later -- Friday at 2:46 p.m. Time is of the essence when dollars are at stake. I can only assume that it took until sometime Friday morning for Pizza Hut to realize the error. The fact that this e-mail is text, not HTML, suggests they got it out in a hurry.

pizza hut follow-up e-mail

This e-mail does a good job of apologizing and explaining. The subject line is OK; I think the goal was not to draw too much attention to the offer in the subject line, and the message achieves that. It does mention the offer, minus the prices, in the body of the e-mail.

But there's one thing Pizza Hut could have done better. If it appreciates me as a customer and wants me to be 100 percent satisfied, why not give me another offer to take advantage of? It doesn't have to be anything drastic, like two large pizzas for $0.99. But how about including one of its regular offers here, like getting a P'Zone Pizza for just $1 when I buy a large pizza? This would both build goodwill and turn this apology e-mail into an apology e-mail that drives additional revenue. In fact, there are no links here to order pizza at all. The only things to click on are a link to the privacy policy (why is that featured so prominently?) and one to unsubscribe.

E-mail That Contains Misinformation

A few months ago I was able to lock in my preferred status for next year with US Airways. It's always good when that happens. But then I received an e-mail telling me that I was getting close to preferred status and offering a way to boost my miles to get there via a new credit card. I read the message and went online to confirm my status for next year (which I clearly had). Then I went on with my day.

Like me, people receiving this e-mail were probably confused about whether they had achieved preferred status. I imagine that many of these people called US Airways to check, creating an increase in call volume and, perhaps, unhappiness when people were told they were worried for no reason; those are downsides for the company from both cost and customer relationship perspectives. To preserve goodwill, stop the calls, and try to avoid incurring additional incoming call center cost, it was wise to take action.

Later that day I received the following e-mail correcting the information in the first one:

US Airways follow-up e-mail

I never realized how prevalent the word "oops" was in e-mail marketing. Copy that referenced "Your preferred status: an inaccuracy" would have been a more effective subject line; it's more to the point and more descriptive and more professional.

The opening paragraph is good. It does a great job of addressing the issue and confirming that it was a mistake so customers' minds are put at ease.

But then the copy reiterates the credit card offer. While I wish Pizza Hut, in the example above, had done this, here it seems a bit self-serving. This is especially true since there's no makegood for the original error, other than an apology. If US Airways had included some kind of peace offering -- even something as small as a free drink coupon (sodas cost $2 each now on a flight) would have done the trick -- then reiterating the credit card offer might have played a bit better.

It's easy to read these case studies and know that you'd do better if you ever had to deal with an e-mail mishap. But when you're in the midst of it and the clock is ticking to respond, you don't always think as clearly as you'd like.

So this week, take some time to think about how you would have handled each of these situations. Print this column and the last one, add your own notes about what you would have done the same or differently in each situation, then file them someplace safe. Because no one is immune to making mistakes. It's not a case of if you'll need to deal with an e-mail mishap, it's a case of when -- and how effectively you'll respond.

Until next time,

Jeanne

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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