Privacy Mistakes, Part 2

In my last post, I raised the question whether or not the following message was sufficient enough to rectify a boneheaded email data-sharing mistake.

I would like to sincerely apologize to everyone blind copied here for accidentally delivering a mass email earlier today with your email address visible.

Needless to say, I am deeply embarrassed my error.

If there is something I can do to rectify any inconvenience that my hastiness may have caused, please do not hesitate to let me know.”

First let’s take a good, long look at the things wrong with this situation, then we’ll get down to the correct way to manage and fix these kinds of predicaments.

This first thing wrong is that something big is missing — and it’s the root cause of the overall problem. There’s a clear lack of marketing control. The original email was sent by a sales rep (happens to be a guy), and it had all of his customer email addresses visible for all to see. The lack of marketing control at his company could’ve led to this for a few reasons. Perhaps there aren’t any marketing professionals employed here at all, and sales folks like this guy are blindly doing their own marketing as best they know how, considering they’re clearly not trained to be marketers.

The second thing wrong is there’s a clear lack of marketing control and/or involvement as it pertains to company email policy. Certainly, with the serious implications presented by CAN-SPAM laws, email should be managed by a marketing team that provides best practices in messaging and metrics, adequate tools for managing deployments and opt-outs, and clear direction on compliance with privacy and security requirements. There’s no way that in 2010, some sales guy should be randomly firing off a mass email to several dozens emails, with no regard for potential liability or consequences. I like to think that perhaps this sales rep just “went rouge” in the overzealous pursuit of sales — yet his subsequent email response shown above belies a clear lack of understanding about anything regarding effective email practice.

The last thing wrong here (that I’ll point out, anyway) is the callousness towards customers on the company’s behalf. I’d never do business with this firm, as they surely don’t consider my needs or my data privacy important. Not to mention that the sales rep’s original email was not effective at all — it was a monologue-oriented rant on the company’s products, not my needs as the customer.

Now that we have that bad stuff out of the way, let’s look at the right way to rectify mistakes when they happen:

  • 1. Don’t make the same mistake twice — If someone in the organization goes rogue and mistakenly deploys an email that discloses customer data, don’t follow up with the same damn kind of email that led to the mistake in the first place! From the same person, no less! Not too smart!
    Deploy your next emails, fully-compliant with CAN-SPAM laws, using email deployment software — that way there’s no risk of the same mistake happening again.
  • 2. Escalate the level and tone of the response — This mistake was made by a front-line person. So in the follow-up efforts asking for forgiveness, consider sending those messages from someone higher up in the management of the brand or company. This approach signifies that the company acknowledges the error at the highest levels and shows that you’re not taking it likely. Consider complementing any email messages with timely follow-up phone calls to address any customer concerns directly.
  • 3. Explain your solution to the problem — The sales guy who sent me the message above not only didn’t know enough not to make the mistake in the first place, he also clearly doesn’t have a clue what to do to fix it. Don’t tell your customers to “let you know if there’s something they can do to help you.” Tell them how you’re gonna make sure this problem doesn’t happen again! Be clear about recognizing the cause of the initial problem, and be clear about how you’re changing your processes to ensure it’s solved forever.
  • 4. Offer an olive branch — A simple gesture to make up for an inconvenience often makes the difference between losing and keeping a customer. If you shared someone’s email data by mistake, offer them a free subscription to an email privacy service. It’s a small correctional investment that proves you value the business relationship and are putting your money where your mouth is in terms of rectifying the problem.

    The moral of the story is that a commitment to effective marketing and running a customer-focused business eliminates alot of risk for these kinds of mistakes. A business that looks for dialogue with customers and uses effective marketing practice (that leverages best practices and is compliant with other requirements) has built-in process to manage communication and feedback — making these mistakes less likely. However, it also ensures that when mistakes do get made, there is appropriate process in place to deal with the clean up effectively.

    If you don’t have that kind of commitment to customers in place, don’t become the bad example of the next blog post — charge ahead and correct your process now.

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