The art of writing an apology email

Trust us: No one wants to have to send an apology email. (A-hem, especially if you’re an email marketing company.) Whether you sent a message to the wrong list, at the incorrect time, or didn’t discover a mistake until it was too late, it truly happens to the best of us.

Your plan for the day probably didn’t include Googling “Best apology emails,” but no sweat, we’re here to help you make the best of it and carry on with your email marketing genius. 

Own up to your mistake

Okay, before we go any further, we should probably tell you that the idea for this post came from our very own mistake. Yes, we live and breathe email best practices, but behind these blog posts and email guides, we’re all still humans wishing we had an “unsend” button.

What happened

At Emma, we’ve been Marie Kondo-ing our email lists to enhance the user experience for our subscribers. But during the organizing process, we experienced a hiccup that caused an email to go out that asked our customers to confirm their email subscription (again). 

It was then that we realized you don’t think about how to write an apology email until you need to write one. This isn’t something that’s in an automated workflow or appears on your content calendar. So, it’s usually both urgent and unpredictable, leaving you scrambling to say just the right thing. 

In our case, Kalyn New, Director of Customer Marketing, took the reins of crafting this apology email. “I thought a lot about how to approach the apology and how transparent to be,” Kalyn said. 

“I settled on just being a human and explaining exactly what happened, and I hope the honesty was well-received. I think people understand that mistakes happen, but it's how you handle the mistake that really matters,” she added. 

The result

Here’s the apology email Kalyn sent to the customers who’d received the wrong message:


What we learned: Tips for your own apology email

After this experience, we realized we probably aren’t the only ones who wonder about sending apology emails. We also thought it would be better to be prepared in the future just in case it happens again, so here’s a round-up of what we chose for this email. We hope it helps in your next “Oops!” situation:

Choose your subject line wisely. 

Subject lines are always important, but they’re even more so in an apology email. Following a strange or disorienting experience with your mistake email, you want to reassure subscribers that everything’s under control and prevent unsubscribes if possible. 

Choose a subject line that acknowledges the mistake in a way that reflects your brand in a genuine way. Like Kalyn said above, we take care to be authentic with our customers and make technology personal, so we chose the subject line “Something went wrong today.” 

Here’s some more subject lines for the occasion:

  1. “Whoops, Let’s make it up to you.”
  2. “We made a mistake. Here’s what happened.”
  3. “Sorry about that!
  4. “Oops! Here’s what we meant to say…”
  5. “Confused by our last email? Here’s clarity.”
  6. “We apologize for the confusion.”
  7. “We messed up.”
  8. “Here’s the email we meant to send you.”
  9. “Thanks for your understanding about our mistake.”
  10.  “[OOPS] Let’s try this again.” 

2. Send from a trusted and recognizable address. 

This message is coming from “Emma Email Marketing” and the email address [email protected]. The fact that this is a personal letter from Kalyn (And that she introduces herself right away!) gives it a more personal touch and helps the apology feel as genuine as we truly are. 

3. Give details about what happened. 

In this email, Kalyn tells our subscribers that the error happened because of a list issue, and she specifically describes the email they received by mistake. Including the “from” address of that email, especially because readers may not have received anything from that address before, shows that we have identified the problem and have everything under control. 

If you’re vague about the problem or try to hide your mistake, your subscribers will feel like you’ve broken their trust and will be more likely to unsubscribe. 

4. Apologize. 

This may seem like a given, but your apology should be communicated in your subject line as well as the body copy. Whether your brand uses a playful “Oops! I did it again” tone or a more serious “This won’t happen again,” make sure you actually communicate that you’re sorry. 

Acknowledging the confusion your customer may have experienced as a result is a great addition, too. Your subscribers have trusted you with their inboxes, and you want to let them know that you can still be trusted. 

But while we’re on this topic, don’t apologize in every email you send from now on. Send an apology, brush yourself off, and get back to your usual content. 

5. Mention any preventative measures that have been taken. 

Explaining why this won’t happen again or a precaution you’ve taken to make sure it won’t will also help your subscribers regain trust. In this case, Kalyn mentions that, while the email address does in fact belong to her, customers will not be receiving any additional communications from that address. Creating expectations and meeting them goes a long way when it comes to customer communications. 

6. Offer additional support or information. 

Once you’ve communicated the basics of the situation, apologized, and talked about moving forward, offer a way for subscribers to follow up with questions or concerns. Make yourself available for further individual communication, and reassure your subscribers that you’re there to listen to them. 

7. End with a warm greeting. 

“Thank you for your understanding” is a great way to end this email. It’s clear, genuine, and signals the end of the message. The inclusion of recognizable branding icons helps to reinforce credibility, and it’s helpful to end on a familiar note. 

8. Surprise and delight. 

If you want to go above and beyond, turn this into a situation that not only fixes the situation, but also turns it into a positive one. 

Kalyn told us about an experience working with another company when they mistakenly addressed everyone on their email list by the name “John.” Not a great situation to be in. 

But their response was able to turn the situation around completely. “We sent an apology saying "Hi [NAME] (we know you're not John) and we sent them a 10% discount code [JOHN] to kind of make fun of the whole thing,” she said.”It was so well-received!”

Wrap up

While we’re obviously not proud of the fact we sent an incorrect email, we’ve learned from it and hope a little peek behind our process helps you prepare for the future, too! If anything, let this be a reminder that we’re all human and make mistakes. Remember—It’s how you handle it that matters. Happy sending! 

About the Author

Kaitlin Wernet is a content specialist on Emma's marketing team. When she's not restraining herself from using too many exclamation points or grabbing one more La Croix from the office kitchen, she can be found working on her first book or planning her next big travel adventure.

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