How to Send an Apology Email

Oops, I did it again…

When you spill the proverbial milk all over a marketing email, it can be tempting to hold your breath, cross your fingers and hope no one notices.

Your readers will certainly notice some things and they may not notice (or care about) others.

So should you send that apology?

Before sending an apology email, evaluate whether it’s worth it or not. When do you play it safe and apologize? And when do you leave it alone?

Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Would subscribers be inconvenienced if I didn’t send an apology?
  • Was it a bad enough mistake that I truly do owe them a heartfelt message of regret?

If you respond with a “yes” to either question, then here are different scenarios for when to send an apology email and how to write it.

Incorrect info

This one’s a given. If you send out incorrect information, you’re going to have to set the record straight with an email like this one from Wawa:

What we love about this: The email is short, sweet and to the point. Wawa also stays true to their brand with colorful and fun images to keep the email light.

Your takeaway: Don’t worry about spending paragraphs on paragraphs apologizingnote your mistake and then keep moving! This will also keep the email positive, and ensure it is a delightful for customers to read.

Here’s a different example from Thinkific:

What we love about this: They doesn’t dwell on the mistake. They deliver the correct facts, and move on!

Your takeaway: Make light of the situation. You made a little mistake… it’s okay! Just stay professional and fix it.

Though you can certainly give your readers a way to respond by linking back to your site, your emphasis should be squarely on the correction. Since your original message has people operating under false information, corrections are best sent out as soon as possible.

Details left behind

It’s difficult to catch every little detail before sending out an email. Sometimes, missing one little detail can mean subscribers get a hugely different message from what you intended.

So it’s important that you fill in the blanks as soon as possible, like Shoo Foo does here:

What we love about this: This email is from Amanda at Shoo-Foo, so you can really place a face with the name, making the email more personal. We also love the format of this email: a short intro and the corrected email below.

Your takeaway: Create a personalized experience so your readers don’t feel like they’re being email blasted. Also, make the email very clear by first explaining the mistake and then fixing it.

Now, depending on how long your error went without being corrected and how deep of a discount you’re offering, you may want to consider adjusting the sale to run the way you advertised it.

If that’s not possible, make sure to communicate to subscribers how truly sorry you are for the inconvenience.

We understand how hard it is to remember every detail in an email. That’s why we created 30+ free fill-in-the-blank email templates and the What to Write in Your Emails guide. With the templates, sending emails is as easy as copy, paste, send.
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Tiny typos

If you accidentally send a typo, it can be tempting to tell your readers that you caught it, like Shopify’s first paragraph here. Not only does this help you recoup some dignity, it shows transparency, which can build trust in your company – your readers know you’re always giving them the straight story.

What we love about this: Shopify openly admits their mistake, and basically says, “Hey, we are human too.” It’s hard to argue with their sincerity.
Your takeaway: Admit your mistakes and then move on! You don’t have to dwell on the erroras ShooFoo showed, we are all human and we all make mistakes.

But there can be such a thing as too much transparency. No one needs to know every breath your business takes. If a mistake’s tiny enough that readers, if they noticed, wouldn’t care, it’s probably not worth wasting their time by calling it out.

Jokes gone wrong

April Fools Day can inspire all kinds of business-to-customer fun. Which, unfortunately, can result in all kinds of customer-to-business panic. Depending on the size of the uproar, you may want to quiet it with an email, like Dreamhost did.

What we love about this: Notice how their apology was tucked among other content in their newsletter? Genius!

Your takeaway: This response wasn’t urgent, so it works as part of the body of the email. Still, it does effectively answer any lingering questions.

One more thing – if you use humor, make sure it is still polite. Dreamhost used silly humor; whatever approach you take should be just as gentle.

A serious slip-up

Occasionally, you might really mess up and offer readers something they can’t actually get. Along with your regrets, you may want to send them something to make up for their disappointment, like Dot Perkins does here.

What we love about this: The apology is straightforward and it stands out. A discount is then offered as a further apology.
Your takeaway: A discount shows that the company is sincerely sorry, and that they really care about their customers!

What are you sorry for?

Of course, we’re hoping you have nothing to be sorry for.

But we do all make mistakes. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to apologize to your subscribers? How did you handle it? Tell us about it in the comments below!

And before you go, make sure you claim your free bonus content to help you write better emails in less time. Click here to download your 45+ email templates and the What to Write in Your Emails guide.

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  1. Tim

    7/11/2011 10:31 am

    It seems like some email marketers purposely make a mistake in the first e-mail – so that they have a reason to then send another email later with an “important correction”. That way they can send twice as many emails, without it seeming as “spammy”. This seems like a sleazy practice, but it probably works.

  2. Salvatore

    7/12/2011 11:22 am

    @Tim – I have noticed that too. I’m not sure it works, but it is probably worth testing 😉

  3. Dean

    7/13/2011 5:25 pm

    Nice collection, thanks for the post, Amanda.

    I do agree with Tim, something like this could be done with purpose and probably work well.

    Company I was working for made mistake once and we sent out email targeted to female customer to male segment. But we’ll straight away send another, saying – “sorry, but at least now you know what girls are up to” and what to buy for your partner… we got few very positive replies, guys liked our approach.

  4. Craig Marshall

    7/18/2011 2:50 pm

    I love the way the cute girl is apologizing. This is the best way to apologize. You should keep in mind why and when you are apologized to whom.

  5. Kevin Gianni

    7/27/2011 6:10 pm

    LOL, there’s a grammatical error in the shopify apology. 🙂 Should be “personalize” not “personalized.” Maybe they should send out another one…

  6. Eduard Hiebert

    8/18/2011 2:48 pm

    Thanks Amanda for your cautionary notes on changing the from line. Also much appreciated your p’s and q’s regarding apologies, thanks!

    For your information, I review a lot of material “off-line” and when I turned your “apology” info off-line, it went AWOL on me. Connecting and refreshing, only the sub-page I was reading came back, all the rest before and after were missing! Only when I went back to the original email and re-clicked could I re-access the full piece.