The corporate apology email is becoming an American way of life. Just recently, GoDaddy, whose customers experienced a service outage last week, was the latest company to need to send an apology to customers. But there is a right way and a wrong way of doing so. The right way can brand your company as a straight-shooting business; the wrong way can cost you even more customers. Here are some tips on what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to apology emails:
- Do actually apologize: Why so many people and companies say mealy-mouthed apologies like “we’re sorry if anyone was offended” or “we’re sorry that you feel that way” is mind-boggling. Those are non-apologies, not apologies. Instead, if you are going to take the time and effort to apologize, you need to actually make an apology, not engage in diversions or make excuses.
- Don’t use the “apology as a sales tactic” technique: Corporate apology emails are becoming so commonplace that some companies are even using faux-apology emails to generate sales. Recently, a sports memorabilia company that shall remain nameless sent an “I’m sorry” email out to its customers, apologizing for, among other things, assuming that the customers knew everything there was to know about the company. The firm then apologized for taking for granted that customers also knew that the firm was a “full service sports marketing company” that worked on fulfilling customers’ “sports wishes.” The email came across as cynical and self-serving, and only succeeded in ticking off customers who took the time to open it. Don’t think you’re clever for trying this. Save the apologies for when you really need to make them.
- Do be sincere: Phrases like “profoundly sorry,” “we made a mistake,” and “we were wrong” are key. In short, you want to have a type of apology that will make your customer feel more positive, not more negative, about your company. Better to err on the side of being too apologetic, as opposed to not apologetic enough.
- Don’t explain without rectifying the situation: Last fall, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote the company’s customers an email saying that he “messed up” over a price increase and the creation of a separate company named Qwikster, but the email indicated that the mistake wasn’t in raising rates, but in not sufficiently explaining the changes. Instead of fixing the situation, subscribers got even angrier over the non-apology email. Eventually, the firm dropped the Qwikster idea, but still stuck with the price increase. In retrospect, Netflix could have saved themselves some agony by actually listening to its customers’ complaints about not wanting two separate bills, and writing an apology email that fixed that situation instead of explaining it.
- Do be timely: You could have the greatest apology in the world written, but if you send it two months after the controversy, your customers won’t care. That means, for example, that if you accidentally send out the wrong sales information in an email marketing newsletter, you need to send a correction – and an apology – as soon as you can after the error occurs.
- Don’t be too salesy in the apology: There is a fine line in offering a coupon code or a discount to rectify a situation, and coming across as a shameless salesman. GoDaddy got some criticism in its recent apology for service interruptions by offering a 30% discount – a standard discount they already frequently offer – for new products. Violet Blue of ZDNet called it a “We had an outage, let us sell you something” apology letter.
You never want to be in a situation where you have to write an email apology to customers, but if you do, follow these tips and you could keep the goodwill between your company and your customers intact.
Lisa Swan writes for marketing sites including LiveIntent.com.
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