Don’t you hate making errors? They make you look and feel stupid.
But errors are funny things. It’s impossible to predict what damage they’ll do. Surprisingly often, they hurt your pride a lot more than they hurt anything else.
We here at Moceanic recently made an error, and we still feel a little sick about it. If you’re signed up for our emails, you might have noticed our error.
Here’s what happened: To announce that I’ve joined Moceanic, we sent out an email offer for organizations to get a free 90-minute coaching session with me. All you had to do was complete a quick online survey, and we’d pick two organizations as winners.
Well, about three minutes after that email went out, a second email went out — to all the same people. It was the message from me that was meant for people who had completed the survey: “Thanks for taking the time to complete my survey,” I cheerfully said to a large group of people, hardly any of whom had taken the survey.
Boy did we feel like schmucks.
Because it happened in the middle of the night in my time zone, Sean pounded out a message apologizing for the mistake.
The outcome? Some of you may have been annoyed by it. But our unsubscribe rate stayed at the low level it’s usually at. But more to the point: We got 127 responses to the initial email. And then an additional 146 responses, as a result of the apology email.
The whole painful incident resulted in more than twice as many smart fundraisers filling out my survey for a chance to win a 90-minute Coaching+ session with me.
Which is often how it goes when you make errors. Especially when you apologize.
Since I know you like to gloat about other people’s errors (well, I like to gloat, so I think you might also) … here are some examples of painful errors I’ve been part of through the years:
- Two embarrassing typos: We meant to say, “Sign and return the enclosed placemat.” What we got was, “Sign and return the enclosed placenta.” Second: a “Fill the Pantry” campaign somehow became “Fill the Panty” (I’ve heard from quite a few people who have suffered this exact error!)
Result: No discernable difference in response from normal. A couple of donors sent back the errors (with their donation) pointing out the typos.
- The unreadable newsletter: We produced a multi-page newsletter, and the printer failed to trim the paper correctly before mailing it. The tops of some of the pages were connected so the only way to read the inner pages was to tear them apart.
Result: The newsletter performed quite a bit better than projections.
- Mixed up letter: To lower costs, we produced two direct mail pieces for two different clients using the same specifications. The printer got confused so that Client A’s letter had Client B’s page 2. And vice versa. Meaning everyone got letters that dramatically changed topic mid-sentence.
Result: The initial appeal for both clients performed as we’d originally projected. And a handful of donors called or wrote to complain about the error. Response to the apology letter was strong, better than the initial appeal. Meaning we more than doubled revenue to the project because of the error. (It was the printer’s fault so the apology letter was at no cost to us.)
So errors don’t necessarily kill you.
But I don’t want to give the impression that you can be cavalier and sloppy and just let the errors happen.
There’s a class of error that pretty much does kill you. That’s when something happens that makes it difficult or confusing for donors to respond. Like inserting the wrong return envelope. Or a dead link to the landing page. Or an incorrect phone number.
Those errors will get you, big time.
- Not all errors are the end of the world.
- Some, though, kind of are.
- It’s worthwhile to apologize for errors.
- Some errors are hilarious, even though they’re upsetting.
By the way, the team at Moceanic didn’t make this mistake on purpose to get more responses to my survey!
Care to share errors you’ve made or seen and the outcomes? Please comment below!