Adventures in Email Marketing: I'm Writing to Say I'm Sorry

  |  August 23, 2011   |  Comments

Four tips to have at the ready when good email programs go bad.

Everybody makes mistakes, even email marketers. You can have any number of controls in place to prevent errors with your email programs, but as long as there is a human involved at some point (and there should be), there are going to be mistakes. Of course, technology isn't completely off the hook either - Y2K anyone?

So, it's not a question of if you're going to have an email go out before it's ready or with some type of misinformation, it's when. Given that, you need to be ready to respond. Because, in the end, it's how you deal with your mistakes that matters. The following are some tips to have at the ready when good email programs go bad.

Assess the situation. There are multiple factors to consider when assessing the potential impact - the size of the list that received the mistake, historic engagement metrics of that list, and any liability of the mistake - financial (wrong price or discount), customer experience (multiple emails, bad links, insufficient inventory for list size, etc.), or reputation (increase of negative feedback on social networks). Once you've assessed the situation via each of these factors, make sure you communicate it to relevant parties like customer support. Management may also need to be informed depending on how severe the impact might be.

Determine the appropriate response. Once you've assessed the potential impact, you will have the perspective needed to formulate an effective response. Different mistakes require different approaches. Put yourself in the consumer's shoes and consider what kind of message would resonate with you. If you made a pricing error that you can't honor, figure out what you can offer to make up for it - whether a different discount, free shipping, etc. A little goodwill goes a long way. If your email went out with bad links, follow up with a correction email that owns up to the mistake and apologizes for any frustration that they might have caused. In any instance, make sure the style of the response reflects your brand. If appropriate, apologizing with humor can help diffuse any ill will.

Respond quickly and accurately. When it comes to email errors, time is of the essence. A rapid response will help you minimize impact, which includes costly calls into your call center and nasty grams on Twitter and Facebook. However, speed should not take precedent over quality control. You don't want to send an apology email about your apology email. Of course, this means that you need access to channels that can alert you to problems in real time. If you have a social media manager monitoring popular social networks, make sure they know to forward any negative commentary to relevant departments. If the error is getting propagated via social media, make sure you post a prompt response via each channel. Similarly, you should make it a habit to monitor your reply-to folders for a spike in volume that could be triggered by an errant email.

Perform a post-mortem. You can't take the mistake back, but you can learn from it. Make sure you measure the total impact, including decreases in engagement metrics and typical sales volume, as well as increases in customer support calls, unsubscribes, and overall complaints. Make sure you also figure out how the problem happened in the first place. Was there a technology glitch or an oversight in the review process? Understanding what went wrong will help you minimize its chances of happening again. Make sure you also assess the effectiveness of your response. How quickly were you able to respond and what were the engagement metrics on those communications? What kind of feedback did you receive from customers - including comments on social channels? If you offered a concession in the form of a price break or discount, how did those perform? It's not uncommon for these types of make-good offers to greatly outperform normal promotions.

The bottom line is that you need to be prepared to respond, and your response should be direct and honest. Your customers will cut you a lot more slack if you own up to a mistake. While you don't want to be known for making mistakes, you do want to be known as the brand that always has a great response when they do happen, because they will.


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Tal Nathan

An industry veteran, Tal Nathan has been helping organizations deliver valued and effective email marketing services for more than 10 years. In his role of vice president of client services, Nathan manages all client services for StrongMail to ensure that their respective clients receive the highest level of professional service available in today’s competitive marketplace. Previously, Nathan served as vice president and general manager of client services for Epsilon, where he led online strategy for the company’s top-tier clients, with a focus on the retail, travel and financial verticals. Prior to Epsilon, he was the vice president of client engineering at infoGroup, where he led and managed integration services for its Yesmail division. No stranger to technology, Nathan began his career at BDO Seldman, where he provided a range of business management and technology services to Fortune 500 companies. Nathan holds a BS in mechanical engineering from UCLA.

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