(Not) hard to say you’re sorry

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We all make mistakes, but when they’re in writing—in a newsletter or e-mail marketing message—a simple error can seem like a major catastrophe. If you’ve ever wondered what the best course of action is, take note: Morgan Stewart, director of strategic services at ExactTarget, and Barry Stamos, senior director of strategy at Responsys, have the following advice:

  • Don’t apologize for every mistake. Your action really depends on the nature of the mistake, Stewart said. “If the customer is going to get your e-mail and scratch their head, or you know they would see something and perceive it as an issue, go ahead and plan an apology,” he said. This means that simple misspellings or missing words should be ignored, while incorrect offers or product information should probably generate an apology/we goofed e-mail. Of course, even if you don’t send out an apology make sure you correct the mistakes on any landing pages that feature the original text. But don’t just pull your landing page while you’re fixing your problem. Make sure a placeholder goes up telling customers and prospects when to expect new copy.
  • Be timely. If you notice a mistake at 3 p.m. on Monday, don’t wait until Friday to fix it, Stamos said. “You want to get out the apology while your readers still remember what you’re talking about,” he said. If you choose not to send out a message, keep a watch for your customers’ e-mails. “Any time you see many people e-mailing to correct your mistake, that’s when you need to act quickly.”
  • Be direct. Corrections should have your apology in the first sentence of the first paragraph; don’t take too long to get to your point, Stewart said. “Be blunt,” he added. Consider including a short, two-sentence explanation above your original copy with corrections.
  • Keep subject lines positive. The last thing you want to do is associate your brand with a negative message, Stamos said. “People sometimes write these horrific subject lines, ‘Error in E-mail!’ and then the original subject line,” he added. “You want to keep your normal structure but maybe add in, ‘Now correct,’ in front of it. Keep negative language out of it.”
  • Use your mistake as an opportunity to further build relationships. As the old saying goes, to err is human, so use your error as an opportunity to show your company’s personality. Humor in an apology does just that, Stewart said. You can also—when you make a bigger mistake—send out an additional call to action, he said. “You can send out a special offer with an expiration date to make up for your mistake,” he added. “You may even create a viral opportunity in this case.”
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