When All Hell Breaks Loose

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing, and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected.

After auto-sending many emails to clients in the span of a few hours, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma. Do we send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further? Do we stop all communication until the recipients have been given enough time to forget we spammed their inbox? Do we remove them all from our list entirely? Do we respond to the dozens or hundreds of hate emails? Lastly, what do we do to salvage unsubscribes?

Many of my peers believe you should always apologize when you make a mistake in your automated program — be that a simple typo, an unfortunate parallel (when your marketing message inadvertently aligns with an unfavorable situation [e.g. Retailer Apologizes For ‘Unfortunate Timing’ Of Isis Lingerie Line]), or as in this instance: when your automated program goes haywire and sends your subscribers 37 emails in the span of 14.6 minutes (or something like that).

If this happens to you, remember to keep the gravity of the error in perspective. Panicking will not help you, but this checklist may.

  1. Evaluate the extent of the damage. For most errors of this type, you can get a feel for how angry your constituents are by reading the reply emails. As you do this, keep in mind not everyone feels the same way. Don’t let a vocal few represent the entire list, but do give these responses careful consideration and use them as a guide to gauge the overall impact. Take a look too at opens, clicks, and unsubscribes. Though irritated, your list may have actually engaged with the content to an acceptable level and this should help you to decide next steps.
  2. Choose an appropriate response. With a clear understanding (and some best guesses) at the level of damage, think next about what you would say to these recipients. Don’t draft a response to the most annoyed and most vocal, deal with those persons individually and separately in more personal emails if the group is small enough to do so. Your response should instead target the group just below the most angry; those who are smoldering in silence. Pick up the phone and dial one or two of your best customers and ask how they felt about receiving three dozen emails and in what way could you best show your concern for the event and desire to lessen the impact. For best results act quickly, be frank and forthright about what happened, do not make excuses, and do apologize.
  3. Choose a response method. You may learn sending another email would only worsen the situation, but everyone has likely been the recipient of more than just your wayward program. A simply apology with an offer designed especially for them may do the trick. If you’re not retail, perhaps a small gift card at a local coffee shop or Amazon.com (which typically has a very low redemption rate) might be in order. Find a vendor that charges you only for gift cards redeemed.
  4. If another email is not recommended, try reaching out through social media or direct mail. Admit your mistake, take it in the chops, and perhaps add in a bit of self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood as you extend the olive branch.
  5. Distill the analytics. Go beyond opens/clicks/unsubscribes and looks at visits to the landing page, form completions, and more. This is a golden opportunity to learn something, so don’t consider the entire event a disaster. Even tornadoes leave a trail useful for educating storm chasers about patterns and other types of data, which can influence prevention and protection.

You are not alone. Even software/hardware giant HP apparently experienced issues with its automated program and sent a few too many emails to subscribers. HP sent an email apology with oops in the subject line and title. As a side note, this is the subject line I receive most often and for me it’s effective. Short and sweet, and though I don’t have statistics to support this, my guess is it elicits good open rates — even when tempered by the influence of the multiple emails preceding it.

If you choose to promote your oops in social media, know that some people who did not receive the multiple emails will also use the discount code, but that’s probably a good way to turn a bad situation into a redeemable fiasco. That’s not such an awful thing — is it?

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