A guide to Damage Control
We’ve all been there—fingers flying across the keyboard, multitasking like a pro, and then, in a moment of horror, you realize you’ve sent an email to the wrong person or included the wrong attachment. It’s a sinking feeling that can make your heart race and your palms sweat. But fear not, dear reader, because there are steps you can take to remedy the situation and salvage your professional reputation.
Here are some common mistakes:
- Sending an email out to customers with the wrong date for a product launch
- Sending the wrong email to a specific group (wrong email to the wrong demographic)
- Sending an email with broken links or links to the wrong page
- Significant spelling errors (which may be misconstrued, or worse, offend some people).
The first rule of email mishaps: act quickly. The moment you realize the error, don’t panic, but don’t delay either. Open your email client, find the sent email, and hit the recall button if available. While not foolproof, this feature can retract an email if the recipient hasn’t opened it yet. But what if you aren’t using a email client supporting a recall feature, or your email system doesn’t allow this (as in certain regulated industries).
In case the recall feature isn’t available or doesn’t work, send a follow-up email immediately. Apologize for the mistake, explain the situation briefly, and provide the correct information or attachment. Transparency is key, and people are generally understanding when you own up to your mistakes.
Damage Control Strategies
- React Quickly: Recognizing the mistake quickly goes a long way in damage control. Email recall is far from guaranteed, especially when dealing with large email lists to customers or subscribers. The quicker you can respond, the more likely the recipient may not even see the original email as the replacement email will “bubble up” to the top of their inbox.
- Create an Apology Email: This is true for personal faux pas to an individual, but especially true if you sent your email out to a subscriber list (the wrong email, or the wrong email list segment). If you are an email marketer, having an apology letter already written “just in case” will speed up the reaction time.
- Apologize sincerely: Begin your follow-up email with a genuine apology. Acknowledge the error and express your regret for any inconvenience caused. This demonstrates accountability and professionalism.
- Clarify the mistake: Clearly state what went wrong in the initial email. Whether it was an incorrect attachment, recipient, or information, be transparent about the nature of the mistake. This helps in setting the record straight and minimizing any potential confusion.
- Provide the correct information: Include the correct details, attachments, or any additional information that was missing or incorrect in the initial email. This shows your commitment to rectifying the mistake and ensures that the recipient has the accurate information they need.
- Follow up with your recipient(s): In more serious cases, or if the email contained sensitive information, consider following up with a phone call. This personal touch allows you to convey your apologies directly and answer any immediate concerns the recipient may have. If dealing with a large email list, calling would not necessarily be practical, but if something is perceived as offensive, a social media post apologizing for the event may help. Follow up with an offer to your subscribers may also diffuse some mistakes.
- Learn from the mistake: Reflect on what caused the error in the first place. Was it a result of rushing, distraction, or a lack of double-checking? Learning from the mistake will help you avoid similar blunders in the future.
- Create a checklist: Have a checklist helps you focus on the right things BEFORE an email goes out. Even newspapers get typos in headlines because it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and it is easy to miss the obvious. Make a checklist for headlines, graphics, links, body text and email list (including segments), then test. This also includes personalization tags if you are using an email service for a email list. While this may not be practical for every personal email, it is certainly a necessary quality control when sending email to a list!
- Enable email confirmation prompts: Some email clients offer confirmation prompts before sending emails. Activate this feature to provide an extra layer of caution, prompting you to double-check recipients and attachments before hitting send.
- Take a breath and review: Slow down and review your emails before sending them. Check recipients, subject lines, and attachments carefully to catch any potential errors. A few extra seconds can save you from a world of embarrassment. Send a test message to yourself and a colleague for quality control (checking spelling, ensuring links work and the right message going to the right audience).
- Use professional language: Maintain a professional tone in all your communications. This not only reflects positively on you but also helps mitigate the impact of any mistakes. Colleagues and clients are more likely to forgive and forget if your demeanor remains consistently professional.
Sending the wrong email can be a cringe-worthy experience, but it’s not the end of the world. By taking swift and thoughtful action, you can mitigate the fallout and demonstrate your commitment to professionalism. Remember, mistakes happen to everyone, but how you handle them defines your character and builds resilience in the professional world.
- M. Schweitzer, A. Brooks, and A. Galinsky. (September 2019).The Organizational Apology. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/09/the-organizational-apology November 14, 2023.
- A. Stahl. (March 2022). 10 Rules Of Email Etiquette. Forbes, Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2022/03/01/10-rules-of-email-etiquette/?sh=7b698eaf4a94 November 14, 2023.
William Wheeler is a consultant, storyteller, teacher and IT expert. He has been a national subject matter expert for several universities and has written dozens of college level courses and is a published author.
William R. Wheeler, CEO/Principle Consultant
Wheeler Management Group
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