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When Things Go Wrong: Handling Apology Emails

When Things Go Wrong: Handling Apology Emails

As email marketers, we cringe over what can possibly go wrong with our deployments - typos, broken images, broken links. And we lose sleep at night over the even bigger bloopers - missing or expired promo codes, products that sell out before the promotion is over, website glitches and more.

Let’s face it - it’s not the end of the world (although it could be the end of a job, depending on the severity of the error).

What resonates with customers, however, is how your company handles such “whoopses.” A sincere apology – especially when combined with an additional offer – can go a long way to restoring trust in a brand.

In this example from Rocawear, the company speaks its customers’ language with “Our Bad!” The subject line – We Apologize - Take An Additional 10% Off – gets right to the point. What I find interesting is that Rocawear did not remove its sharing link at the bottom of the email. (Of course, promo codes like this end up on sites like RetailMeNot anyway.)


Humor can help turn a negative into a positive. This Forever 21 email is the cat’s meow:Darcy2dec

And this Lily Pulitzer email combines humor with genuine appreciation of its customer base:


Sometimes an apology is expected/demanded, and sometimes it’s just a “nice to have,” as in this email from Bargain Catalog Outlet. When an item is unavailable, it’s more of an annoyance or inconvenience, so an apology email is simply a value-added gesture. The subject line draws you in: Ooops! Didn’t Get What You Wanted? … Please accept $10 OFF your order*. (However, not sure I’d include the asterisk in the subject line.)


Put “OOPS” in the subject line and you’re certain to attract attention, as in this one from OOPS - we didn't mean to send that last email


The use of a Post-It® note in the email design is a cute way to say “We screwed up.” does eventually apologize, inserting a bit of humor, but doesn’t include any special offer to make up for the mix-up. (I do wonder what the previous email said, though.)

From a public relations perspective, your mea culpas shouldn’t be limited to email alone. If the problem affected a majority of your customers, such as the site was down, an apology on the home page is probably a good idea. Your customers probably will take to the social networks to air their grievances, so you should moderate these and respond when appropriate.

Sorry if I got a bit long-winded here, but it’s an issue that I am passionate about. Forgive me?

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To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.
Winston Churchill

Subject lines… the easiest thing to write, the hardest thing to get right. There is just no single best practice, rule or tactic that works every time.

"The reaction to, and response of, an email message has the same power to conjure up an emotional response as does the spoken word, and the response or behavior we influence is the action, or lack-there-of, seen in our customers. But how do you know what to say to create this emotional reaction, specifically in your email marketing communications?"

After a consumer opts into receiving your emails, I assume they’ll be somewhat active. During the initial weeks they’ll open, click, browse your website, and maybe even convert. However, it probably won’t take long for them to lose interest. They’ll delete without pause or filter into a subfolder for a rainy day. They may come back briefly when a compelling event motivates them to find your most recent offer or a reactivation campaign lures them in once again, but the pattern will repeat itself. They’ll get bored and disengage all over again.

"I am 6 months into my new job and new role as Marketing Director at WorkCompass, A B2B SaaS firm selling Performance management and appraisal software. I am the first marketing hire coming fast on the heels of the first sales hire Colm. So what’s the perfect pitch for our audience? I had no idea!"

“Words matter very much Ms. Barnes, you should care more about them given your profession.”- Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey of House of Cards)

In the profession of digital marketing, our words matter very much. Words are the pinnacle point of persuasion that drive our consumers to either take an action or ignore our advances. Therefore, our pitches, or messages, warrant much more attention and affection than currently rewarded to them.

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