Tetiana Shataieva
Aug 05, 2021 | 13 min read

As a journalist and marketer, I know very well what an email lapse means. First, you are composing a letter, bringing up all the creativity you can produce, researching the best image to illustrate the message you are conveying. 

After that you insert this carefully crafted letter into the email marketing tool, set up the target audience. Of course, you do your checkup dozens of times because you know this letter will be placed in your precious subscribers’ inboxes. 

When a couple of test emails have been sent, you press a ‘Send’ button and pray for the high open and response rates. 

Once the email lands in your inbox for the umpteenth time, you decide to glance over the text once again. Damn! You spot a major mistake and feel confused. What’s next?

Let’s go through a few real-life examples of how to say sorry for the inconvenience in an email in a unique and effective way.  

What to do if you’ve made a mistake?

The Carey School of Business found that the customer satisfaction rate reaches 74% if the business says “sorry” when some issues occur. Thus, it’s a powerful and cost-effective strategy to turn around a bad user experience. 

Regardless of what you are going to apologize for, each sorry letter should include the following four points:

  • You are aware of the issue, own the mistake, and can elaborate and tell why it happened (but with no excuses).  
  • Right now your team and you are doing everything in your power to fix the problem. Moreover, you can describe those steps. 
  • You can promise this mishap won’t happen again and tell how you are going to prevent it.
  • Offer the affected subscribers something to forgive you. It can be a discount or free delivery. 

Now, let’s see how brands worldwide apologize to their customers in an email.

8 apology email examples to say sorry in a unique way

1. Shutterfly – when you mess up with targeting badly

Yeah, it happens and pretty often. Even the most skilled marketers go a bit weak at the knees when snapping on a ‘Send’ button. No matter how many checkouts you go through, it still doesn’t guarantee a misstep-free campaign. 

All in all, in this paragraph I want to tell you about the Shutterfly lapse. The photoproduction and image sharing company launched a cheerful newsletter congratulating subscribers on their newborn babies. And it would be sweet if the email was not mistakenly sent to the entire customer base. (That moment when you pray for a LOW open rate).

If you are not a parent, you can definitely relate to the story. Some Shutterly subscribers’ have never given birth. Others were childfree of their own accord. So, no wonder, within hours indignant email recipients went on Twitter to share their feedback. Part of them reacted with humor, while others felt insulted.

But it got worse. A few website users went through miscarriage and child’s death. This seemingly nice letter broke them down and massively hurt their feelings. 

Having had 3 miscarriages and no babes, receiving a ‘Congratulations on your new arrival’ has ripped me apart.

Shared a woman

The company had no choice but to send a sincere apology email to customers, own the mistake, and explain themselves. It turns out, this newsletter was intended for those who had just purchased birth announcements from Shutterfly…

Considering the users’ outrage and the sensitivity of the topic, it was important to compose a short but accurate letter. A wordy email with dozens of images wouldn’t work here (or, basically, anywhere), so the firm sent a simple black and white apology email of six sentences.

Shutterfly apology email
Shutterfly apology email

They explained what happened, and promised they took every measure for the situation never to be repeated. What’s more, the letter was signed by Shutterfly Chief Marketing Officer which made it look more personal.  

2. Drizly – when personalization goes terribly wrong

I have to admit, this is one of my biggest nightmares when it comes to email campaigns. Each time I see the {first_name} variable in the newsletter’s draft, I wonder what if it won’t convert…

Well, this nightmare of mine came true at alcohol e-commerce platform Drizly. They launched a newsletter and then suddenly realized the problem. The name custom field failed to convert to real names. It went even further, the names of the items promoted in the email also displayed with an error and went ‘lorem ipsum’. Instead of prices. 

How would you feel if you get an email saying: “Hello, {name}! How are you today?” Here is what subscribers had to say on Twitter.

To all the marketers reading this, we all can feel that pain. Missteps happen when posting on social media or sending an email campaign. It’s never fun. But correcting such a mistake can be very amusing and play into your hands if you do things right.

Comparing with the previous case, this situation could actually be resolved in one way only – jocular. Of course, the PR team could send some standard email like “We’re deeply sorry, let us make it up to you!”. But instead, they chose another path and even got themselves a little promotion along the way. 

Drizly apology letter
Drizly apology email

Their subject line ‘lol, wtf was that’ is hilarious and makes you smile right away. Bring it into service in case you would ever need to say ‘I am sorry’ to your customer in a funny way. 

Just as it should be, Drizly explained what happened: “My dog did it.” And we can so much relate to the well-known concept ‘the dog/cat ate my homework’. And an explanation like this makes the letter even more funny and memorable. 

As for me, the email reaches its humorous peak when it offers the ‘LOREMIPSUM’ promo code. What a nice act it is. Drizly turned a little (read: huge) mistake into a follow-up email campaign that helped them stand out from the crowd with grace. 

Consequently, they received positive feedback and an increase in brand recognition. It’s definitely a nice case to learn from. 

Twitter Drizly best apology

3. Forever 21 – when your website has some speed issues

Fortunately, marketers aren’t the only ones who make mistakes. The server may fail too, and the main features sometimes go out of order. 

It may seem that it’s not necessary to apologize to all subscribers. Indeed, why should you? It can be enough to contact only those directly affected by the problem. 

But as with other things in life, every failure is another opportunity. It’s a chance to remind users about yourself, offer a small discount, and eventually increase sales. Basically, it is a tool to boost your revenue by leveraging your existing customer base. The question is, how to apologize in such a way that triggers more sales?

For instance, fashion retailer company Forever 21 resorted to humor in hopes to calm down possible negative reactions caused by low website speed. They sent an entertaining apology email to the whole subscribers base, regardless of whether they experienced the problem. 

Forever 21 apology email
Forever 21 apology email

Even if the server fails and the most essential features stop functioning as they should, don’t panic. While programmers are fixing the issue, you can send an email to your subscribers saying something like: “Our website has a little hiccup. But don’t worry, our bugbusters are already on it.” 

Then ensure recipients that it won’t happen again (like, really make sure of it) and offer a generous discount. Use downtimes as a window of opportunity, and you will never lose. 

4. Friendly’s – when you provide incorrect information in a newsletter

I love this example from the restaurant chain Friendly’s. They beautifully played with the admission of a mistake and the product they sell adding a pinch of humor to it. Just trust me, a funny and attention-grabbing title almost guarantees the success of your apology email. If you manage to come up with an image as good as the title, then congrats. You win the hearts of subscribers!

In the case of Friendly’s, the image of the fallen ice cream cone perfectly demonstrates the senders’ feelings, evokes emotions, and gets remembered for its uniqueness. It perfectly illustrates that something went wrong.

 

Friendlys apology letter
Friendly’s apology email

The font of the body text has been made small on purpose to not distract your attention from the main message. So what do you learn from the email? Something went wrong, the company is sorry, and you can get 80 days of deals. It’s enough to spark interest and maybe even push to use the offer. 

5. Fab – when you send a test email to all the subscribers but you didn’t mean to

E-commerce company Fab made a cute mistake and sent an email containing just an image of a cat to their subscribers. Honestly, they could have played as if it was intended to intrigue their subscribers. But they were given out by the subject line “[TEST] PM Tracking Test”.

This mere error represented a risk to Fab as recipients could have started complaining about spam and clicking the ‘Ubsubscribe’ button. So the company decided to send an apology letter explaining that it was a mistake and they were sorry. 

Have you ever heard of the tactic ‘fighting fire with fire’? Well, that’s what Fab did. To recover from sending an odd test email with a cat, Fab chose to send a fun apology email with… more cats. How can this idea be any good, you may ask? See for yourself.

Fab apology email
Fab apology email

In addition to the fact that they approached the issue with humor, they also gave their subscribers a reason to forgive them by offering a 10% discount. More importantly, the company got serious in the final words and told users it wouldn’t happen again. 

To be honest, the apology email looks so good that it might have been a pre-planned action for a so-called unintentional mistake. Apology letters have more chances of grabbing subscribers’ attention. As for me, you better avoid such strategies. It’s hard to measure the brand damage in the long run. Honesty is still in vogue.

6. The Body Shop – when you hit the “Send” button too many times

It happens when you click ‘Send’ and it doesn’t respond. Then you assume that you pressed the button badly and should repeat the procedure. You click again and again until your subscribers’ inboxes fill up with letters from your company. 

This is a difficult situation and there is no obvious answer to how to proceed. Your users have already received several emails from you. Will sending another one save the situation or only make it worse? Well, The Body Shop, a British cosmetics company, took a risky decision and composed an apology email.

The body shop apology letter
The Body Shop apology email

This short, clear, and to-the-point email with an image of an adorable orangutan evokes nice feelings and states that they are sorry. I would certainly forgive the company because why wouldn’t I? Missteps happen to everyone. 

The one thing I would add is a promo code ‘STOPSPAM’. Considering how many emails and newsletters an average customer receives on a daily basis, a bunch of identical letters from the same company does look bad. So, giving your subscribers a reason to forgive you would be a nice gesture. 

7. Greenpeace – when you slip with targeting and humorous approach is not an option

We’ve looked into many examples of how to compose an apology email with a hint of humor. And this approach works really well. But what if your brand isn’t known for funny language and joky content. What if you work in the B2B sector and your mishap costs clients thousands of dollars. I guess they won’t laugh even if you include a cat image in your email campaign. In this case, you’ll be better off playing it straight.

For example, Greenpeace apologized for unintentionally including a subscriber to the welcoming email campaign which was not meant for her. 

Greenpeace apology email
Greenpeace apology email

In a polite and kind manner, they asked a subscriber to forgive them highlighting that it was an embarrassing error. Concluding the letter, Greenpeace thanked the girl for generosity as the organization exists on donations. 

8. Outbrain – when you are a B2B company and the server fails you 

In such circumstances, it’s better to be proactive and don’t wait until angry customers reach you. The best way is to take out the front line, explain the situation, and tell what steps are taken to resolve the issue. 

It’s better not to give any concrete promises because a broken promise is even worse. But still, you can at least say roughly when the situation is planned to be resolved so that users can inform their customers about delays and malfunctions.

A recommendation platform for the open web Outbrain had a little issue with a server and sent an apology email to their customers right away. 

Outbrain apology email
Outbrain apology email

Even though the ‘sleepy’ server didn’t cause any major problems to the users, it’s important to make things clear. Also, this sorry letter allows for a little promotion of your new features or products. 

But what’s especially important in such cases is to offer alternative ways of how subscribers can reach you. Let’s imagine that it’s not just a small email confusion but a serious server lag. Once reading the apology letter, a client doesn’t have time to write an email reply, wait for the response, and so forth. They need to contact you ASAP and ask for the details and updates. 

Surely, you can include a phone number (but for this you need to hire more employees, which means spending more money). What’s the solution then? Live chat can definitely serve your purpose. Invite recipients to contact you via chat for immediate help. 

These 2 apology email templates will spark your creativity

Look at these examples. But don’t just copy-paste them. Allow the following templates to awaken your creativity. Come up with your own unique way to say “sorry” to customers. 

1. Apology email for an unhelpful customer representative

Dear {name},

On behalf of {your company name}, I truly apologize for the poor experience that you went through while speaking with our customer service agent {name of agent}. 

It was completely unacceptable that {he/she/they} kept you waiting on hold for that long and still returned without an appropriate resolution for your issue with our service. You were seeking reliable assistance but got the complete opposite of what we aim to provide all our clients and for that, I sincerely apologize. 

Naturally, I took the appropriate action and strongly reprimanded {him/her/them} for the poor customer service, but as the Founder of the company, I believe that I should take responsibility for this misunderstanding. And I also express my sincere gratitude that you chose to send out an email notifying us of what happened, which should help us keep this from happening again. 

We have gone through your account and have managed to resolve the issue with your payment plan. As compensation, we hope that 20% off your next payment can also help alleviate some of the frustration you have had to deal with.

Yours Sincerely, 

{Your name}

Founder of {your company name}

This is a template that Eden Cheng, a co-founder of the software company PeopleFinderFree has kindly shared with us. This is a nice way to apologize in front of an unhappy customer by showing that you regret it happened, will take measures to avoid it in the future, and offer a cut price.

2. Apology email for the order mishap

Dear {name},

I’m sorry about your recent order.

It’s hard to genuinely convey just how sorry we are, and the best thing we can do now is to solve the problem and make sure you never experience it again. If you could reply with any other information that may be helpful, I’ll handle this from both ends of the spectrum – production and shipping.

I am so sorry for any inconvenience this has caused, but please know that my team will do everything in our power to resolve this right away.

Please include your phone number so that I can text or call if there are any more questions answered outside of these emails (which is very possible since there are many variations across different departments). Thank you in advance!

Regards, 

{Your name}

Head of Customer Success Department

Maria Lewis, a PR representative at My GRE Exam Preparation was generous enough to share the template of how their team says “Sorry”. 

How to apologize in an email?

While each case is unique and might require some special tactic, there are common tips that apply to every situation. Let’s look closer into some of them.

Be honest

All humans make mistakes. It’s not a big deal at all if you can make a sincere apology. If you write “I’m sorry” only because your boss asked you to do so, it is unlikely that such a letter will have the desired effect. More probably, subscribers will feel your insincerity and ignore the email. Try to show empathy for the affected parts, imagine yourself in their shoes, then it might come more naturally to you to heartily apologize. 

Avoid negative terms

This tip applies not only to apology emails but to any interactions with customers. Negative terms create negative connotations that we don’t need. Just try to use a different word that has positive associations instead. For instance, “we’ve terribly failed you” could become “our website had a little hiccup”. In your apology letter to a customer try to stay away from the words like:

  • Problems
  • Bad
  • Failure
  • Trouble
  • Uncertain
  • Unfortunate
  • Awful, etc.

No blame game

The worst thing to do in an apology email is to point fingers at others. Blaming someone else will only make you look pathetic and irresponsible. It would sound like “yes, accept my apologies but it’s not me, it’s them!”

As Will Smith once noted: “It really doesn’t matter whose fault it is that something is broken if it’s your responsibility to fix it.” Is it your company’s responsibility to make things right? Then forget about the blame game. 

Focus on how you are going to resolve the issue in your apology email.

Add a pinch of humor

In the following apology email examples, you will see how a hint of humor can turn the situation in your favor. 

If it’s appropriate, try to share a little joke about the situation, refer to something your subscribers can relate to, and laugh at. Besides, a fun approach makes your letter look less negative which is a good thing. 

When people notice your light mood and humor even in difficult situations, it calms them down and convinces them that no apocalypse is happening. They’re more likely to believe that the issue can be resolved.

Create a catchy subject line (examples)

Like in any email, a catchy subject line is half the battle. This is basically the single most important factor that influences your open rate statistics. When it comes to sorry emails, the indicator is skyrocketing. The email marketing software company MailGen shared that their apology letter with the subject line “I’m sorry” received an 85.1% open rate. 

Obviously, you shouldn’t send such letters just to increase the open rate, because it definitely will backfire in the long run, ruining your brand reputation forever. But if you do have something to apologize for, then take a moment and create a catchy subject line. Here are a few examples for your inspiration:

  • “OOPS! Here’s what we meant to say…”
  • “[Whoops!] Let’s try this again”
  • “Sorry about that 🙈”
  • “Our mistake – your reward!”
  • “We made a mistake. Here’s what happened”
  • “Thanks for understanding our mistake”
  • “YEP, we messed up 🤷‍♀️”
  • “Say NO more. It’s our bad”
  • “Pretend you didn’t see the previous email”

Make your subject line simple, unique yet informative.

Final words

Apologizing to customers is just as important as it is to your loved ones. If something went wrong, express your understanding of the situation and regret. Be sure to include the steps of how you are going to solve the problem. It will be good if you offer some kind of special bonus for affected parts. 

Apologizing to customers properly is not an easy question. The answer depends on your specific situation and company. While some employ humor, others apologize in a clear and formal manner. 

But above all, it’s important to use sleek and reliable email marketing tools for proper customer service. I highly recommend HelpCrunch software. It allows you to send beautiful newsletters using pre-made templates (or create your custom one), automate email campaigns, and track their performance with ease. On top of that, you will get the live chat and the knowledge base features in the same package. And it’s just the silver of the full scope. Try for yourself. Start a free 14-day trial today! No strings attached. 

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