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You sent an email with an error. Now what?

You sent an email with an error. Now what?

We are all human and we all make mistakes. For digital marketers, the most embarrassing mistake is sending an email that contains an error. If your email was sent to a small group of colleagues, you might be able to pull the message back using your mail client’s recall feature. If the email was sent to friends, you might be able to contact them individually to correct the error.

But what if the email was part of a marketing campaign on behalf of your company and it was sent to hundreds or thousands of recipients? What if it was for a speaking engagement featuring your company’s CEO and you misspelled their name or gave the wrong date? What do you do then?

Have no fear. There are ways to save face. As with many slips in life, the grace with which you handle the mishap can often leave you looking better than if the mistake never happened.

Assess the Mistake

Once you realize you’ve sent an email with a mistake, the first thing to do is catch your breath. The second thing is take a moment and assess the impact. How serious was it? What effect could it have on your company? On recipients? Will it even be noticed? Does it require a follow up?

Minor Mistakes

Some mistakes are so minor as to not require acknowledgement. If the mistake was slight and does not significantly impact recipients, you might want to leave well enough alone and not call attention to it by sending an oops follow up.

We recently had just such an instance in which a client decided not to send a follow up email. In this case, the client had initially sent an email that cited an offer for a “2006 cookbook.” (In fact, the cookbook date was 2016.)  The incorrect date reference was buried in the middle of a paragraph lower in the email. Meanwhile, the email contained a headline as well as a large image of the cookbook cover, with 2016 clearly visible in both instances. The landing page, too, clearly showed the correct date.

In this case, the client decided not send a follow up email that would have called attention to the mistake. The date typo caused no harm and did not prevent anyone from doing what was desired — downloading the cookbook — so it was decided to leave well enough alone.

If we had included a bad link, or if the date reference had been wrong throughout the email, we might have decided otherwise. But in this case, we let the error slide. Some readers, no doubt, saw the mistake, but none replied pointing it out, so we were all relieved.

Major Mistakes

Some errors, of course, require immediate attention. These are the kind that prevent recipients from taking action or that are so obvious and egregious they demand follow up.

These include things like:

  • A wrong phone number or address
  • A bad link
  • An incorrect date or time for an event
  • An obvious or embarrassing or significant typo

When these mistakes are recognized, immediate corrective action is required. Here’s what to do.

Respond to the Mistake

Once you’ve assessed the situation and determined that a follow up is needed, you’ll have to figure out how to respond. If you decide you need to send a follow-up oops email, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Be Quick – A quick follow-up can catch people before they see the first email
  • Be Clear – The corrective email subject line and pre-header should be clear about the purpose of the email
  • Be Honest – Own up to the mistake; say you’re sorry for any misunderstanding; don’t engage in any blame shifting or detailed explanations
  • Send an Offer – If the original mistake email contained an offer and you can’t give what was promised in the original offer, provide a backup offering
  • Stay on Brand – Stay on brand in the apology but, if your brand and the situation allow it,  injecting a little humor in the follow up email can go a long way

On the topic of humor, one of our clients shared a story recently about how they used levity to save face when they sent out a mistake email several years ago.

The email was a Halloween message. The subject line was “Bats and Ghosts and Goblins.” The first sentence included a dynamic-insert salutation, as in “{First Name}, No matter what shows up on your doorstep tonight….”

Well, as luck would have it, the dynamic name insert failed to populate, which meant that everyone received an impersonal version of the email.

Within an hour, the client recognized the error. They determined a follow up was needed. But rather than just re-sending the original email with the dynamic insert fixed, they took it a step further. They rewrote the subject line and cleverly explained the error as follows:

New Subject Line:  Ghosts in the machine

Charles…Earlier today, I sent you a Halloween email.  Imagine my HORROR when I realized that {First Name} appeared where your real name should be.  There are ghosts in the machine, and it looks like the first trick of Halloween is on me.  Please accept my personal apologies for such an impersonal contact.  

The client says that the apology email generated more engagement than they had ever seen, along with a fair amount of good-natured ribbing and empathetic stories of similar incidents from their subscribers.

That’s the definition of grace under pressure.

Fix the Mistake

Even if you can’t use humor, there are steps to take when correcting a bad email. Tips include:

  1. Make a copy of the email.
  2. Name the new email “Revised” or “Updated” so you don’t confuse it with the original.
  3. Change the subject line. Then use the words: Correction, Oops, and We Apologize in the subject line so your recipients know why they received another email.
  4. Fix the mistake in the new version of the email. Consider making the correction information easily apparent in the introduction.

– A Link Oops – Links can be corrected. If you have a URL spelled out incorrectly in the copy the underlying link can be changed
– A Content Oops – Images can be refreshed. If some of your recipients saw the wrong graphic in the email resend to them.

  1. Send yourself, as several others, a test version of the email. Confirm beyond the shadow of a doubt that the new email is correct.
  2. Send the email.

Prevention is the Ultimate Solution

A good way to avoid having to send oops emails in the future is to prevent them from happening. Proofread or have one other set of eyes look it over. It can prevent a mistake from happening again. Also, always send a test email and look at it. Make sure the copy makes sense and that you see the right images and test all your links.

Try some of these content tactics:

  • Use spell check
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Proofreading tips include:
    • Have someone other than the writer proofread the email.
    • If you are both the writer and the proofreader, allow some time to pass between when you finish writing and when you proofread. Even if it’s as quick as grabbing a cup of coffee, a couple minutes away will give you fresh eyes.
    • Print the email; reading a printed document is often easier than reading on screen.
    • Read the email backwards, starting with the final word and working to the first. Proofreading in this way forces you to focus on each word individually.
    • Read the email out loud. This, too, forces you to focus on each word, rather than doing a mental skimming.
    • Double-check all phone numbers and addresses; test the phone numbers by dialing them.
    • Triple-check all dates and times.
    •   Quadruple-check the spelling of all personal and company names.
  • Test all links
  • Send a test email to yourself and others
  • Render test the email in different browsers and devices

At Biznet, we are experts at helping companies maintain professionalism, even if mistakes occur. We offer high quality services that will ensure a lasting reputation. Check out our digital marketing services page to see all we can do to help you when those “oops” moments arise. Or give us a call at 248-560-9000.