How to Deal with an Email Gone Wrong

We all know the feeling.

When you hit that big scary 'send' button on your newsletter after reading it over a million times for spelling and grammatical errors, just to get a flood of responses letting you know that you've made a mistake. 

Your cheeks immediately start burning up, you start sweating and your heart starts beating a mile a minute.

If you haven't experienced an email oopsie yet, don't worry, your time will come. It's not fun. At all. But it's all part of being an email marketer and an online business owner so be ready for it. 

As an Email Marketer myself, I've sent well over 1,000 email marketing campaigns in my day. So you can just imagine how many "oopsies" I've made. Some big, some small. But regardless of the severity, they all SUCK!

While I was the Email Marketer for Well.ca, I made a fairly big mistake with one of our emails which at the time was life ruining, but in hindsight, sort of hilarious. 

At Well.ca we used custom coded HTML emails. For this one particular email, we were making changes up until the very last minute so the deployment was extremely rushed. I had tested the email what felt like a million times when I was ready to hit send. But of course, one more change came in that was a pretty easy tweak so I quickly made the change and sent out the email. 

Well, turns out that while I was making that final easy tweak, I somehow deleted part of the <title> tag at the top of the email. And of course I deleted the ladder half of the tag leaving the 'TIT' at the very top of the email before any of the email creative actually began. The word TIT was literally the first thing our subscribers saw when they opened the email. Luckily most of our subscribers thought it was funny (I don't think my boss thought it was funny) and weren't offended but still, I wanted to crawl in a hole and die that day. 

Here's another one for ya. During my first month as the Email Marketing Manager for FreshBooks, I managed to call about 3,000 customers by the wrong first name. After hitting send, I was flooded with responses saying things like, "Thanks FreshBooks! But, who's Betty? My name is Matt" and "Um, my name is not Bob. Did someone hack my account? Is all of my data lost?"

Yeah, not fun. All because of a stupid excel formatting error and not being super diligent with our QA testing. But I can tell you right now, since that day, I've never gotten first names wrong in an email again. Sometimes you've gotta learn the hard way right?

With all that said, I decided to put my email marketing mistakes to good use by putting together 7 steps for dealing with an email gone wrong. I hope this will help you come out of your first email oopsie alive and ensure those email marketing mistakes are few and far between.

1. Give yourself time to freak the f*&% out (30 seconds max!)

Let it sink in. Depending on the severity of the mistake you made, allow yourself 10-30 seconds from the time you realize you've made a mistake to the time you start taking action to resolve it, to just freak the f*&% out. The shitty thing about email marketing is that once you've hit send, you can't get it back. So that feeling of pure terror as you hit send is totally normal. Don't worry, you start to get used to it...kinda.

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2. Take a deep breath and identify exactly what went wrong.

Alright, now it's time to stop freaking out and start resolving the issue. The first thing you need to do is identify exactly what went wrong. Whether it was a simple spelling error or you sent the completely wrong email to the completely wrong group of subscribers, be honest with yourself and identify exactly what went wrong and determine the severity of the error. For example, were only some subscribers affected or were ALL subscribers affected by this mistake.

3. Identify the source of the error and how it can be prevented in the future.

Take some time to understand exactly how this error happened. Were you rushing? Did you forget to test the entire user experience? Did you not get a second set of eyes on your email? Did you make an error uploading your list or building your segment? These are all important questions to ask yourself. The faster you can identify how the error happened, the faster you can honestly communicate that to your subscribers and learn from this mistake.

4. Determine whether or not this mistake warrants a mass apology email or one-off apologies.

Not all email marketing mistakes warrant a mass apology email. Sometimes the mistake is barely noticeable and it makes more sense to only apologize to those who respond and comment on the error. Sometimes the mistake only affects some subscribers who received the message and not all. Depending on the severity of the issue, determine whether or not you need to write a mass apology email or simply just apologize to those who mention it. Whatever you decide, get the apologies out asap.

5. Get an apology email out to your subscribers as soon as possible.

Whether you've decided to write a mass apology email or an apologetic response to individual replies, try and get it out the door as soon as possible (after completing steps 1-4 of course). You want to clear up any confusion your subscribers might be feeling as soon as humanly possible. This will not only help them build trust with your brand in the long run but it'll also minimize the chances of them unsubscribing. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when crafting your apology email:

  • Be a human, not a robot.
  • Empathize with your reader and the confusion they're experiencing.
  • Be transparent about what went wrong.
  • Let them know how exactly what you're going to change in order to prevent this from happening again.

6. Document the learning.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, very rarely do I make an email mistake more than once. Use this as a learning opportunity to identify where there are some holes in your processes. Document this experience so that you can reference it in the future and build it into your testing.

7. Move on.

Get over it. Don't dwell on the mistake as much as I know that's easier said than done. After all, it's just an email. Get up from your computer, go for a walk, have a hot bath or a nice glass of wine. Life goes on. 

Now, I shared a couple of my email marketing horror stories with you, it's only fair that you share yours with me! Comment below to share your worst ever email marketing mistake and tell me how you went about dealing with it.

Happy emailing!

Nicole