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Writing the perfect apology email- everything you need to know

  • On 05/09/2019

“I can’t wait for the day when I send my first apology email!” said no email marketer ever.

An apology email isn’t the best message to have to send, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the worst. The good news is, there are plenty of tools to help you avoid ever having to send one.

More often than not, the catalyst for an apology email is only as negative as you make it out to be in your content. Unless, you know, credit cards and social security numbers were stolen—we don’t recommend downplaying that level of severity.

Just know that having to send an apology email isn’t the end of the world. Plenty of brands do it. Is it the highlight of their week? Probably not. Does it flat out ruin their week? We certainly hope not.

The big question here is, what warrants and apology email and how should you go about it?

What is an Apology Email?

An apology email is the apology letter you send when something goes wrong in your previous sent email. It is your chance to make it up to your contacts and keep a healthy sustainable customer relationship.

Sometimes, the mistakes are minor, like forgetting to include an attachment in an email.

To fix it, you can hit “reply” again and add the attachment like you (and I) have done dozens of times before and never give another thought to it.

Sometimes, the mistakes are more serious, but, like sending out the wrong time-sensitive offer or sending an unedited earlier version of an email blast to 60,000 of your closest C-level friends.

Each of whom you greet as “Dear First Name” in the beautifully designed yet woefully executed campaign.

In these instances, where confusion could cause damage to your brand, business or even your personal reputation. It’s important to address the situation, correct the record, and own the mistake.

Like humans make mistakes, we also tend to be forgiving when someone apologizes.

Apologetic Circumstances

There are plenty of reasons to send an apology email, but not every little hiccup or snafu warrants one.

When to send an oopsy-daisy email

Before you start creating your apology email, ask yourself “was anyone affected or potentially offended by the mistake?”

If the answer is no, then you’re probably good to move on without one. Continue about your day, business as usual. (And… maybe do a little research into implementing a solid email content checking strategy to avoid future flubs.)

On the other hand,

  • expired promotions
  • wrong CTA links
  • a technical error that’s impacting users
  • an accidental offensive word in a previous email
  • privacy breach
  • or emailing the wrong list segment

… are all reasons to send an apology email. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so use your best judgment.

Anything that either impacts or offends your subscribers should warrant an “our bad—still friends?” follow up.

Alternatively, anything that doesn’t have a noticeable impact on subscribers who receive a flubbed email, such as email formatting issues, a typo in the body copy or a missing link on an image, likely won’t need an apology email. Those smaller issues are merely warning signals to be extra diligent and thoroughly review future messages on an email testing platform before they go out.

Creating apology emails

As with any marketing campaign, it’s essential to the first layout of strategy for how to best approach creating and delivering an apology.

Own the mistake

The saying goes: “You can run but you can’t hide.” Never has one said a more brutal truth when it comes to owning up to a mistake.

Sure, you can bluster and babble your way through an issue in the hopes of deflecting blame on to someone else. The reality is deflections and excuses compound the issue at hand.

Those on the receiving end of the mistake care less about you laying blame elsewhere than you fixing the issue for them.

So the best practice advice is to forget about playing your own defense attorney and ask for mercy before your court of contacts.

Respect their feelings

Never underestimate the importance of authenticity when it comes to owning your mistake and saying you’re sorry.

Customers and prospects can sniff out insincerity from a billion miles away. It’s critical that you don’t forget this element in the tone and tenor you set in your apology letter.

Again, it’s important to reinforce the importance of thinking outside of yourself. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes to understand how they are feeling and acknowledge that.

The absolute worst tact to take Is an inward -focused, “woe is me” approach. In other words, think about “them” and not you.

Show empathy

Often the best way to think about them and not you is to restate or assume what it is that they are thinking or feeling.

By showing empathy you will appear thoughtful, reflective and sincere. This is a good time to present a simple explanation for what you think or know went wrong.

When expressing empathy, make sure to write an email that connects on a personal level.

Express how you’ll fix the issue going forward

Sometimes it makes sense immediately after demonstrating empathy to explain what you intend to do. It prevents such mistakes from happening in the future.

This is not always called for in all instances but can often go a long way toward repairing a bruised relationship. Sometimes asking a simple question can go a long way, such as: what else can I do to help repair our relationship?

Again, this is not required in all instances. You should take care to assess whether the answers to that question will start a Tidal Wave of unintended consequences or not.

Ask for forgiveness

Unless it will make a recipient feel uncomfortable, it’s fine to ask for forgiveness. Don’t belabor the point and drone on with self-flagellation messages.

Again, remember that we are all human and that each of us makes mistakes from time to time. When this happens, asking for forgiveness is not only natural but might also be expected.

So, swallow your pride after owning your mistake and ask for forgiveness.

What Makes a Good Apology Email?

If you deem your error warrants a follow-up apology, no problem. Here are some tips for crafting the perfect “oops” email to help minimize damage to your brand’s reputation.

Be timely

Earlier is always better, no matter the case. If you sent an expired promotion, you’ll receive fewer calls, emails and complaints the sooner you can follow up with the correct information.

In the event of a much larger issue, such as a privacy breach with further-reaching consequences, we also recommend having PR in place to help deal with any resulting backlash or news coverage.

Be transparent

The #1 rule of subject lines and preview text is to let subscribers know why you’re emailing them. Be transparent about it in your inbox display so your audience knows what’s going on.

You’re already coming forward to apologize, so might as well not beat around the bush. Be up front and unmistakably clear about why your brand is emailing them. Just be honest and forthcoming so the reason for the email is immediately known, and people can quickly know what happened and move on with their day.

Depending on the severity of the situation, it may even be appropriate for the email to come from an executive within the company, be it marketing, IT, or even the CEO themselves.

Stay optimistic

Again, most of the time, a whoops-worthy email won’t be addressing an end-of-the-world issue. So, the reason for the apology is only going to be as “bad” as your email language makes it out to be.

Notice the difference between:

“We are so sorry for this error, we truly apologize and will make sure it never happens again.”


“Whoops! It looks like we sent you the wrong thing. Here’s the real (link/promo code/etc.) You’ll have much better luck using this one instead.”

The first apology borderline begs for forgiveness, which isn’t necessary. The second one plays it off cool like, “yep, we made a mistake, but we’re cool with moving on if you are.” This is a much healthier approach when apologizing to your audience.

Maintain your tone of voice

When people apologize for mistakes they’ve made, sure they’re a little more serious in tone, but it’s still them and their personality. The same holds true for your brand.

Don’t feel like you have to channel your inner lawyer and kick your brand voice and approachable tone to the curb. Your subscribers love you for you, so sprinkle your token flare into your message as well.

If possible, include an extra promotion

Subscribers are quick to forgive if you hit all the points above, but even more so if your apology doubles as a promotion. If your “whoops” email achieves conversion, you’re golden.

“Oops!” (Apology) Email Subject Line Examples

Your email subject line is the first thing that your subscribers will see in their notification and inbox. Make it clear that it is an apology email so they would open it and learn about what went wrong and what you apologizing for.

Get inspired by these examples:

  1. My bad: Link fixed 66
  2. Whoops, let’s make it up for you 66
  3. Something went wrong today 60
  4. We apologize 68
  5. Sorry we sent the wrong link 81
  6. An apology from us 69
  7. We were wrong. Here’s what happened. 67
  8. We’re working on it. 58
  9. App Downtime Apology 60

Consider your reputation

When you send an apology email, you’ll definitely get kudos from your community for being transparent, timely, and resolution-oriented.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re also now aware of your hiccup. People make mistakes, it’s the human condition, and emails are sent by imperfect people. But brands are held to a higher standard.

Depending on the nature of the apology email, it might affect your reputation with subscribers. This is more likely to be the case the more severe the issue is, such as a privacy breach.



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