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. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further?

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 you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further? Do you stop all communication until the recipients have been given enough time to forget you spammed their inboxes? Do you remove them all from your list entirely? Do you respond to the dozens or hundreds of hate emails? Lastly, what do you 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. 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.
  4. Distill the analytics. Go beyond opens/clicks/unsubscribes and look 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?

I Am the Judge of You

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous. I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating.

Many small business owners complain about the power of Yelp, and understandably so. But the concept is actually brilliant. Interact with a business and, whether your experience was good or bad, you have a very large forum where you can share the love (or not). The fatal flaw is that you can do so without the business owner having the ability to correct the situation because, inevitably, pot shots are done from behind the shield of anonymity.

My Dad always used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I believe in the concept of healthy debate, so I don’t necessarily agree with my Dad, but to have a healthy debate, you need to know the enemy.

Many sites (like this one) require you to log in before you can post a comment. However you can log in with your gmail or yahoo account … and if your user name is not your actual name, it’s easy to start the attack without your boss, co-workers, spouse or clients judging you for your aggressive behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The behavior is not limited to consumer sites like Yelp. On business-to-business sites like this one, there are lots of negative posts from unknown readers, and I wonder, what do they hope to accomplish??

I was recently planning a trip to Mexico and visited several travel sites trying to get the inside scoop on hotels and restaurants. While I was delighted with the many insights like “try to stay on the 4th floor or higher because the thumping beat from the dance floor will keep you awake until midnight,” I was also stunned by the spewing rants from individuals who have logged in with names like “CrabbyinNJ.”

How do we, as brand ambassadors, overcome these customer feedback challenges?

First, and foremost, train AND empower those who are on the front lines of customer engagement to act like the customer—is—always—right. Granted, you can never please all the people all of the time, but sometimes a lot of customer sympathy and a few “my apologies!” can go a long way to diffuse a situation. There is nothing more infuriating than having an issue and the person serving you is either indifferent or plainly unequipped to help solve your problem.

Second, don’t just send blanket “How did we do?” emails to every customer after an interaction. If the customer has had an issue, there should be a place to flag that issue in your customer database, so it can be quickly followed up on by someone who is in authority. Many situations can be rectified before the individual decides to go into a public forum to publicly skewer you and your business.

Third, listen to complaints and actually try to think about ways you may be able to change your policies or procedures in order to ensure the issue doesn’t repeat itself.

Finally, circle back to those customers who had an issue, got it resolved satisfactorily, and ask them if they’d be willing to write about the incident. I hear many business owners say they’re worried that if the customer “advertises” they got something for free or at a deeper discount as a way to try and resolve the issue, it will set the stage for a future customers demanding the same thing. My response is that if, as a rule of business, you treat people the way they want to be treated in the first place—with respect, concern and understanding—you shouldn’t have a problem.

As for those who slap others from behind the shield of anonymity (and you know who you are), man up.