Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

Admitting Your Mistakes: How to Write an Apology Email

Everyone makes mistakes; a few learn from them and gain valuable lessons. However, when it comes to customer service, mistakes are a bad teacher, as there's always the affected party. Failing your customers may result in a significant income loss; failing your partners and suppliers may result in problems with products and services you deliver to your customers. It’s hard to predict a misstep and reaction to it, but nonetheless, it’s possible to come up with a step-by-step email-marketing strategy in case you’ve made a mistake and need to inform your clients.

What to Do if You’ve Made a Mistake?

Many companies are afraid of negative feedback and customer outflow that may break out after they admit their mistakes. However, in reality, the situation is quite the opposite: people know that mistakes are inevitable: it’s the way you fix them that determines your reputation and helps bounce back even from a huge slip.

Most common mistakes than may force you to turn to an apology email:

  • broken links;
  • misleading subject line;
  • incorrect info;
  • expired offers;
  • accidental sends;
  • tech issues;
  • bad service;
  • late delivery;
  • wrong order;
  • poor quality of the product.

In case if a mistake potentially affects one or two users, your support should contact these users through any convenient communication channel to clarify the situation and fix the bug. Most often, email happens to be such channel, and sending a sorry email is the most suitable way to offer your apology. Zappos, a recognized customer service leader, authorize their customer support to send flowers and cards as an excuse; they can even consider making the entire order free.

If you face a system error and have already figured out its cause, immediately contact your users and tell them four things:

  1. You know about the problem, own your mistake, and can explain why it has happened.
  2. At the moment, you're doing everything to fix the problem and can describe every measure you're taking.
  3. You will make sure the situation would never happen again, and can explain how you would ensure it.
  4. You can offer all the affected parties a significant discount as an apology for the caused inconvenience.

Even if your customers were not aware of the situation or simply didn’t understand what happened, do not wait for complaints and negative reviews. Act ahead and use all available channels - email, social media, Viber, WhatsApp, etc. - to let people know you’re not trying to avoid responsibility.

Once the problem has been fixed, write an official comment or statement on your blog and on other platforms allegedly visited by your customers. It’s especially vital if the mistake has affected many people, and you have no ways to contact some of them directly.

An Apology Email: How Major Brands Do It

As stated above, a good apology email must cover four things:

  • notify clients you know about the problem;
  • tell you’re sorry and you’re working on fixing the problem;
  • assure it will never happen again;
  • give a reason to forgive you.

Let’s see how different companies managed to follow these principles in their sorry emails.

  • Shutterfly

A big photo printing website Shutterfly sent an email congratulating new parents on their babies.

Congratulation email by Shutterfly

However, not all of the recipients were actually new parents: the email was sent to all the subscribers instead. With a different life event mistakenly lauded in the campaign, things might not have gone so far, but the Shutterfly’s error sparked negative comments in a blink of an eye.

Many of the email recipients have never given birth. Some of them were childfree out of their own choice. But the worse, quite a few recipients have faced infertility issues, miscarriages, and even a child’s death. This email made them deal with pain again, and within hours, Shutterfly’s Facebook page was stormed by outraged commenters.

Hey @shutterfly, maybe don’t send mass “congrats on your new baby” emails? Those of us dealing w infertility JUST made it thru Mother’s Day.

@Shutterfly go F yourself. My new arrival was supposed to be here 1 1/2 years ago, but died. And I’m since infertile.

A seemingly harmless mistake resulted in a tough situation that required an immediate action.

First, Shutterfly apologized on Twitter with a short comment:

This morning, an email was sent unintentionally to some customers. We deeply apologize for any offense this may have caused.

Soon after, they issued a sorry email. It took them six sentences to apologize, explain what happened, and promise the situation would never repeat again. They opted for a plain text email, showing they’re not going to distract the readers’ attention with images or animation. The apology email by Shutterfly was also signed by Chief Marketing Officer John Boris rather than by the whole brand, which made it more personal and human-like.

Apology email by Shutterfly

The readiness to admit their mistake and take responsibility paid back, and the rage on social media was mostly calmed down.

  • Amazon

In fact, Amazon did no crucial mistake that might have pushed Robbie Schwietzer, a vice president of Amazon Prime, to write an extensive open letter. The thing is the online giant launched a new program, Amazon Student, that gave students free two-day shipping on Amazon orders. The order flow turned to be so big, it reportedly resulted in much extra work for MIT dormitory desk workers. The issue got covered by the media, including The Tech, and Amazon decided to anticipate a possible dispute.

Apology email by Amazon

This email is a brilliant example of a smart marketing strategy. Not only it actually apologies for the possible inconvenience caused, but it also briefly tells about the new program and enumerates items available for ordering. In fact, if not for the sentence “I want to offer my sincerest apologies,” this campaign can be called a great promo.

  • Forever 21

An apology isn’t always a demanded reaction to some problems; sometimes it’s just “for the sake of having,” as this sorry letter by Forever 21. They employed humor to balance possible negativity caused by slow website speed, and sent fun apology emails to all subscribers, regardless of whether they faced the problem. For some customers who might not have had issues with downloading, the email didn’t serve its main purpose; however, it reminded of the company’s existence and offered a free shipping code inviting recipients for a shopping session.

Apology email by Forever 21

How to Write a Smart Apology Email

An apology email is created based on the same rules that are applicable to any other campaign. First of all, it is important to stick to the communication style you’ve been using in your messages earlier. If you used rather relaxed and informal language, jumping into a heavy academical writing would look out of place.

The subject line of the apology email should mention the problem and let the recipients know you’re aware of it. Sent the wrong info? Whoops! Sorry for the wrong link. Forgot to include the announced promo code? Sorry. Looks like we’ve messed up. Accidentally sent the wrong message? Our bad. Let’s try this again. Show people from the start that it’s not just a regular promo, and they can’t leave it unnoticed.

Make your apology email personal. It should be signed by a person who might be responsible for what happened or is authorized to fix the situation. A PR department shouldn’t take a hit for managemental mistakes - such apology would look like a mere formality.

Avoid using too many images or other visuals. The main focus must be on that you feel sorry and are ready to make things right.

Apology email by Zocdoc

Different mistakes require different reactions. People feel dishonesty and would notice if you apologize just to save face, without actually meaning it.

How to Deal with Email Campaign Mistakes

Even professional marketers with years of experience behind go a bit weak at the knees when clicking on a "Send" button. Even a hundred of checkouts don’t guarantee a lapse-free campaign, and all the small errors usually become noticeable after the email has been sent. Broken links, typos, incorrect prices, or irrelevant discounts are typical mistakes that require an immediate follow-up excuse.

You Act:

  1. Estimate the scale of what’s happened: you may have stopped mailing, and not all of your contacts received a copy with a mistake. If so, you’ll have to send an apology email to only those who have received or read it.
  2. Don't send the same email with the same subject line and minimal changes. Emails are often read diagonally, so your recipients may simply not realize they’ve got a different one, and will send it to spam.
  3. Explain what happened and tell how you plan to fix or have already fixed the mistake.
  4. Create an adaptive and simple template for an apology email. At the critical moment, you’ll be able to react to the situation as quickly as possible. In the eSputnik’s email editor, you can save unlimited number of templates and use them when needed: you’ll only have to fill it with relevant information. Don’t wait for complaints and start thinking over your apology strategy right after you’ve noticed a misstep.

How to write an apology email in the eSputnik system

5. Don’t panic. A professional email marketer should know how to take advantage of any situation. Think of an apology email as of an occasion to once more get in touch with your customers and add to your brand promotion.

Mistakes are not always a bad thing; a slight lapse can be a reason for a smart marketing action, if done right. Don’t overdo it, though: your audience would feel when an honest apology is no longer so. Reinforce your sorry email with a decent customer service work and public apologies on social media or reputable platforms to show you do care about your customers and value their opinion.

Create emails that stand out!

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Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

A technical (but still very creative) writer at eSputnik with a strong focus on design, current digital marketing trends, and new solutions for email automation.

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