Turning a Mistake Into an Opportunity (Or How We Went from “Oh F!@%!” to “F!@% Yeah!”)

by / ⠀Startup Advice / July 31, 2012

On Friday June 15th, 2012 we sent errant emails to ~650 people.  We thought we fixed the issue.  That Sunday morning we sent the same incorrect email to the same 650 people.  F!@%!

On Friday, some 650 people who had been referred by our members to Sparkology had just received their reminders to join the service… 4 months after they were supposed to (member referrals is how we grow).  We didn’t know why the emails went out 4 months too late.  But we did know that we got some nastygrams from people who had forgotten about the original invitation and were accusing us of spamming them.  This was embarrassing… but we quelled the angry mob and moved on to fix the bug.

Sunday mornings are meant for catching up on all the projects I’ve been working on without the usual weekday distractions of emails or calls.  Sundays are sacred.  But on that Sunday, I found our corporate inbox filled by undeliverable mail notices even though no newsletter mailing had been scheduled.

It happened again.  The same people.  The same email.  If folks didn’t feel the need to express their disappointment with our email practices on Friday, they sure would find their courage on Sunday.

We were bracing ourselves for damage control until I remembered a speech by Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, where he told budding entrepreneurs to “own your mistakes”.  And so, I did.

I wrote an honest, earnest letter (included below) to everybody that received the duplicate emails and I sent it from my personal inbox.  I detailed exactly what went wrong, how we planned to fix it, and how I had personally wiped their email addresses from our system so it wouldn’t happen again.  I also expressed my sincere apologies for “clogging up their inboxes on a Sunday afternoon”  and my hope that this would not negatively impact the trust that we build with our customers.  Lastly, I included a section where I offered to comp the membership of anyone who was affected but still wanted to join our dating site.

Here are just some of the responses we received:

  • My personal favorite: This is either a brilliant marketing strategy or your tech guys messed up.  I will slow clap you nonetheless.
  • No worries! Love the site!
  • Thanks for the email – rarely do companies go this far in the name of customer service.
  • No problem. Happy to give this a try for a month. Please let me know what I need to do to get access.
  • No sweat, just signed up.
  • It’s no problem – and – thanks so much for the email and offer for the free month. Thought you’d like to know that just this is impressive as far as customer service goes.

What was the end result?  Only two people managed to send us mean emails and dozens of affected people signed up for Sparkology.  Those who did not sign up for Sparkology now have an unparalleled respect for our brand.

I am extremely proud of the result of this ordeal.  With so many jerks succeeding in business, it’s nice to see situations where the nice guys actually win.

Copy of the email:

Good afternoon [Name],

I am personally very sorry for the reminder emails you have received from Sparkology on Friday and this morning. Our service department notified me of the issue and we have worked with the tech team to resolve it. In essence, you were supposed to receive two reminder emails a few days after your friends referred you to Sparkology. However, our mail servers did not run that script for several months and only ran the script for the first time on Friday.

a) We have removed email addresses of anyone who received these emails from our systems. Your email is no longer in our referrals database.

b) I am deeply sorry for clogging up your inboxes on a Sunday afternoon. I hope you can accept my apology. Our reputation is our greatest asset and I fear we have impacted your trust with these emails. I hope this letter helps to explain what went wrong and will help start to rebuild your trust in our brand.

In further effort to re-earn your trust, I’d be happy to comp your membership so you can experience our typical level of customer service. Please forward this email to service@sparkology.com and we’ll give you a free month (women) or a free spark pack (men).

Thank you, and please enjoy the rest of your Sunday,
Alex Furmansky, President

Since graduating with two degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Alex Furmansky has enjoyed a successful career in both finance and tech entrepreneurship. He is the founder of Sparkology, an exclusive, quality-driven dating site set for attractive young professional singles.

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.