Sophia Skinbjerg
Sophia Skinbjerg 14 April 2016

When Something Goes Wrong, Should We Send an Apology Mailing?

If email was as prominent in 1997 as it is now, the whole “we were on a break” thing between Ross and Rachel might have played out very differently…

Wistful Friends pondering aside, it’s a good question business owners and marketers should be asking themselves: if something goes wrong with our customer experience, should we say sorry for it?

Depending on the size and scope of the issue you might choose not to and ultimately that decision is yours but if you’re undecided, the arguments below might help you make that decision.

Identify the cause and confirm it’s fixed

Before we start apologizing to our customers we first need to figure out exactly what went wrong and why it happened. Issues pop up all the time but not all of them affect the customer experience enough that you will lose mailing subscribers or worse, customers.

But sometimes there will be an issue that does have the potential to lose you valuable contacts and paying customers. It could be as common as a 404 error or an unavailable webpage. Or it could be a little bit more serious like when payments cannot be processed at checkout resulting in abandoned carts (and lost sales). Regardless of where the issue sits on the crisis spectrum, you need to be able to quickly decide if the issue calls for immediate action and additional communication to your customers and subscribers.

Sending an apology is honest and transparent

At the very least, if you send an apology mailing to your subscribers it demonstrates that your business is being transparent and endeavoring to be honest which is always a plus.

Being quick to send a sorry message might also result in you reaching your subscriber before they become agitated, giving you an opportunity to explain what happened and what was done to fix the issue.

Sending an apology manages the responsibility

If you’re in the situation where the issue wasn’t your fault then sending an apology mailing to your subscribers can also give you the chance to let them know that the issue didn’t arise from your end.

Maybe your event calendar blasts out invites over and over to the same subscribers or maybe your online payment system isn’t working because your bank’s server is down – whatever it is, it might be useful to pass along a sorry message explaining that the issue isn’t coming from your end. Doing so might save you from losing customers and contacts from unsubscribing.

It’s important to note that in this circumstance, your sorry mailing isn’t a chance to openly blame someone else for the issue. Though it might be incredibly frustrating for both you and your customers, you should still aim to maintain a level head and either pass along communication that you’ve received from responsible parties or ensure your subscribers that you are working with the people responsible to fix the issue as fast as possible.

Sending an apology is a chance to offer compensation

Another advantage of sending an apology mailing to your subscribers is that it can be an opportunity to offer some kind of compensation for the issue in the aim that you won’t lose them as subscribers or customers.

The type and value of compensation is of course related to the seriousness of the issue but it could take the form of discounts, free giveaways or waived fees. Take a look at these great examples from Topshop and Urban Outfitters.

Image via
Image via

Creating a special offer? Read our design tips first.

Sending an apology might annoy subscribers more

The most obvious objection to sending an apology mailing is that it’s very likely you will just annoy customers and subscribers even more.

As a result of being more irritated you may run the risk of more contacts unsubscribing from your mailings that might ultimately impact your sales down the line. This is particularly true in situations when the issue has arisen not by faults of your own but from someone else like in the examples I mentioned earlier. So, what can you do?

In situations where the fault is not your own, try to work collaboratively with the responsible parties and request that they send an apology mailing that includes their contact information for customers or subscribers that would like to contact them directly.

Read: Using email marketing to build your brand

NOT sending an apology might carry over to social media

Closely tied to the point above is the risk of dissatisfaction carrying over to social media and this can have the potential to escalate (quickly) into a bigger issue in itself.

This was the case for one pretty angry passenger of British Airways whose luggage was lost during a European business trip. Following little to no action or apology from the airline, Hasan Syed decided that he would use Twitter to air his dissatisfaction with the service. He even paid to promote the tweets to both US and UK accounts. You can read the full story here or take a look at part of the thread below.

Image via

As the hours went by and the airline did not respond, his one-man campaign attracted attention, much of it admiring and supportive. Eventually the airline responded but at what cost? How many customers or prospective customers had they lost?

Proceed with caution

Great customer experience is what keeps people coming back so take the time to consider the possible repercussions of both sending and not sending an apology in order to make that final decision for your brand.

Looking to improve your mailings after an issue or crisis? Give our tutorial a go!

TUTORIAL: 11 must-have elements for your next email campaign


Featured image via Buzzfeed.

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