How To Deal With Email Mistakes

// // May 24th 2009 // eCommerce + Humor + Marketing

I am subscribed to a lot of email newsletters. It's one of the better ways to keep current with email marketing, allowing me to track send frequency, timing and other trends.

The other day I received an email from Smith & Hawken advertising their Memorial Day Deals. Four hours later I got another Smith & Hawken email with a subject line that read 'Oops, we goofed: Memorial Day Deals for Reals'

Deals for Reals Email

Deals for Reals?

The phrase didn't match my image of Smith & Hawken. Sure, reals wasn't spelled with a 'z' but it still seemed off-brand. A quick peek at Quantcast confirmed my suspicion - Smith & Hawken customers are older, affluent, highly educated women.

Know your audience

I'm guessing most recipients thought it was a typo. To make matters worse, Smith & Hawken figured out (too late I suppose) that they could have changed the image served in the email to reflect the correct price. In fact, the once erroneous price is now displayed correctly in both email versions.

Smith & Hawken goofed three times. Once with an incorrect price in the email, again with sending an off-brand message and lastly for doing so hastily, before implementing a better solution.

Email Mistakes Happen

Run an email marketing program for any amount of time and you're bound to make a mistake at some point. You'll get that frantic call coupled with an avalanche of forwarded emails from colleagues. The price is wrong! The product is out of stock! There's a typo! It doesn't work in IE6! Trust me, I've been there.

Don't Panic

Your first reaction might be to immediately fix the error and resend the email as quickly as possible. Once that train leaves the station it can be hard to stop. Unfortunately, the focus on speed often results in further errors and limits your ability to think more broadly.

Instead, come to terms with the mistake. Own up to it and move on. Don't carry the burden of the mistake around like a scarlet letter. It taints your judgment.

How many?

How many people are really going to see this mistake? How big is your list? What's the average open rate? Is the error on only one item out of many? Do the math and you might find out that it's not as big a deal as you first thought.

However, if the mistake is egregious enough (major pricing error or humorous typo) you may have to account for additional views through viral and social mediums.

How big?

Will the mistake result in a loss? How big was the pricing error? Are you bound to honor that price? Is the typo going to damage your brand? In all cases the answer is usually no.

You could choose to honor a pricing error and reduce your margin, or simply build in some extra customer service cost in dealing with pricing complaints. Throw in a retention coupon for good measure and you might actually build brand equity instead of fritter it away.

Typos are annoying but probably aren't going to damage your brand in the long run unless they become routine. I've been critical of typos from Abebooks because I saw a pattern of errors. That, and subject line errors are the easiest ones to catch. Yet, in retrospect, the typos probably don't amount to much.

How to respond

In this case, I'd opt to do an image replacement and not resend the entire email. Odds are that customers aren't going to zero in on the one mispriced item.

Those that click through before the image replacement is complete will see the pricing discrepancy but only a few are likely to contact customer service or make it a federal case. Others may mutter under their breath and grumble about the discrepancy but it probably won't change their behavior.

To safeguard against the latter I'd create a list of those who clicked through on the mispriced item and send a mea culpa email with a coupon for their trouble. (If you don't have this type of email template ready to go - you should.)

By doing so, I'm only speaking to those who saw the email, reducing my cost and not broadcasting an error to those who weren't even aware of it in the first place.

Stop Email Mistakes

Don't let my attitude make you think I'm okay with email errors. I'm not! You should do everything you can to ensure they don't happen. Have a good process in place. Follow proper QA guidelines. Ensure others are looking at the email before it goes live. Proofread text by reading it backwards. Be paranoid!

When mistakes do happen, take a deep breath, resolve the problem and learn from the experience.

For reals!

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