How to do damage control when e-mail goes wrong

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B-to-b marketers and e-mail providers sometimes have the unexpected occur in e-mail campaigns: Multiple copies of e-mails go out to the same recipients, mail is accidentally sent to the unsubscribe list or unsubscribe requests are not handled properly.

Regardless of the problem, e-mail marketers agree there are certain steps that need to be taken to address the issue with customers and business partners.

"You have to handle it right away," said Gary Glenn, president-CEO of NewsWire One, an electronic news distribution service.

Due to a program glitch in the company's e-mail distribution service, on Aug. 11 multiple copies of a client's news release were sent to journalists on the news service's list.

"It was really a fairly minor problem," Glenn said, noting that between six and 10 copies of the e-mails were sent to some recipients. "Nevertheless, we addressed it right away."

Within hours, the news service sent an e-mail to all recipients on its news list, apologizing for the error and explaining what had happened. The e-mail, signed by Glenn, noted that the problem was a program error and was not caused by the client. The e-mail also said that systems had been put in place to ensure that the problem did not happen again.

"Once you identify a problem, don't put off taking responsibility or apologizing," Glenn said.

He also said it is important for a company executive to reach out to clients and subscribers, as he did by signing the e-mail himself.

George Bilbrey, general manager of delivery assurance solutions at e-mail service provider ReturnPath, also suggested some strategies for handling e-mail problems. "The first important thing is to scan for problems," Bilbrey said.

He said common ways to identify problems are to review complaint data sent to services such as AOL's spam feedback service and SpamCop, a spam reporting service.

Bilbrey said once a problem has been identified, such as sending out duplicate e-mails or sending e-mails to the unsubscribe list, "Stop sending immediately."

Next, contact the postmasters at the largest recipient organizations or ISPs, preferably by phone, to let them know that a problem has been identified, Bilbrey said. "You have to tell them what happened and what the mitigation plan is," Bilbrey said.

As for contacting individual recipients of the mail, "If you have sent mail to an unsubscribe list, don't send them an apology. You've already done enough damage," he said.

"If you have sent a duplicate e-mail, it probably is a good idea to send an apology," Bilbrey said.

Once the problem is fixed, marketers should continue to monitor spam feedback services as well as SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) log files to make sure their e-mails are not being blocked, Bilbrey added.

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