Oops! How to Handle E-mail Mishaps

Mistakes happen. It’s a fact of life, even in e-mail. While it’s best to avoid them, once they occur the best you can do is deal with them. Here are three recent examples of e-mail mistakes that companies big and small had to deal with. We’ll cover two even more serious mishaps in the next column.

Some companies’ responses passed with flying colors, while others…well, let’s just say you can learn from them. Whenever there’s a mishap, there are three questions you should answer before you act to correct it:

  • What effect did this have on the recipient?
  • What is the potential downside?
  • Does the potential downside justify action?

Here are some thoughts on how — and how not — to handle common e-mail mishaps.

Wrong Subject Line

It happens. You’re using an old e-mail as a template and as soon as you hit “send,” you realize you forgot to update the subject line. In the example below, the sender delivered a blog post to his list via e-mail. Because the subject line was wrong, the reader might have missed the blog post or might have ignored the e-mail, thinking it was the same as the previous one. As there’s no direct revenue impact here, the potential downside probably doesn’t justify any action.

The sender went ahead and relayed a second e-mail to the list:

email data card
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I wouldn’t have recommended sending a correction at all, as no revenue was at stake. But once the decision was made to send a correction, there are a few ways it could have been more effective:

  • Include the correct subject line in the subject line. “Oops” just doesn’t cut it.
  • Include the original message’s content below the apology, so readers can read the content (which is the goal) without having to sift through their inbox to find the original message. (How many readers went to look for the previous message? I know I didn’t).

No Sender Line or Address

Most e-mail service providers (ESPs) won’t allow this to happen, but apparently not the one the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) uses. It sent the first edition of a newsletter that had nothing, absolutely nothing, in the sender line.

What effect did this have on readers? They may not have realized it was an e-mail from the DMA and they may have ignored it as a result. The potential downside? The e-mail has valuable content as well as promotions for DMA products and events. Not getting the message out can negatively impact revenue. Since there’s revenue at stake, action is justified.

The DMA’s response was this:

email data card
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The DMA did a pretty good job. It resent the full e-mail newsletter with a brief explanation and apology at the top. This allowed people who may have ignored the first e-mail to get all the information they needed in the second one.

But what was the DMA thinking using “Oops, we goofed!” as the subject line? I would have lobbied for using the original subject line (which was “Research Newsletter — First Edition”) along with the “Oops” copy. Or something more professional, like “Correction: Research Newsletter — First Edition.” This lets people who read the first e-mail know this is a resend and gives people who ignored the first e-mail a reason to open this one.

Broken Links

This is a very common problem: either the links don’t work at all or they take people to the wrong place. BtoBonline.com had this problem recently with its E-mail Marketer Insight newsletter. The results? Readers might not have been able to click through on some or all of the links. They also wouldn’t have been able to get to the Web site to read the full text of articles. Additionally, the problem may have affected clicks on paid advertising. So, yes, there is potential revenue impact with the advertising in the e-mail and on the article landing pages.

BtoB sent the following e-mail in response to the problem:

email data card
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This is a perfect response. It includes a note about the correction in the subject line, along with the full text of the original copy that appeared there. This let readers know that the problem in the first e-mail has now been fixed. It also provides people who may have missed the first e-mail a benefit-oriented subject line that gives them a reason to open this one.

The apology is short and sweet; it explains that the problem has been resolved. That’s all that’s needed.

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.

In my next column, we’ll talk about two serious e-mail mishaps: when you send an e-mail with the wrong offer that could cost you serious money, and when you send an e-mail with misinformation that jeopardizes your company’s goodwill with customers. As here, you’ll be able to learn from others’ mishaps and develop an action plan to handle these types of mistakes should they happen to you.

Until next time,


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