November 16, 2009

What's your opinion on Virgin Blue's mass e-mail stuff up?

As more and more businesses use mass e-mail as a marketing tool, we are seeing more and more stuff ups which put a serious dent in the sender’s credibility.

For example, about one year ago, a local law firm sent me a bulk e-mail with every one of their contacts visible in the “cc” field. To make matters worse, the recipients were identified by their relationship to the law firm, as in “Client – James Deck.”

Virgin Blue committed a major snafu last Friday. They sent an e-mail to a large number of their customers saying that because they were so close to reaching the airlines “Gold” status, they have been given a complimentary upgrade to “Gold.”

Hours later, Virgin Blue sent a second e-mail retracting the original e-mail, blaming Friday the 13th. While the e-mail offered the apologies of Virgin Blue, there was no further compensation.

All weekend, writers for new sites, blog sites, and Twitter have been afire with posts ranging from humorous to downright angry.

Yesterday at technology news site Gizmodo, Nick Broughall admits he is “unsure whether or not [to] be bemused or outraged at the mixup,” and asks readers “to suggest an emotion” for him to take towards the incident.

This week I would like to know:

What's your opinion on how Virgin Blue should have handled their huge mass e-mail stuff up?

Do you think they should have honored the offer? Do you think that customers should forgive them, because “everyone makes mistakes?”

Please visit the comments section on this blog post to share your opinion, and read what others have to say.

How do we prevent embarrassing mass email sins in our business?

Every week I receive e-mail newsletters that clearly originated in Microsoft Outlook. Indeed, the law firm mentioned at the beginning of this article used Outlook.

Using Outlook has several major drawbacks. The two biggest are:

1) The likelihood that you or your staff will eventually inadvertently cc: your mailing list instead of bcc:
2) In Australia there is anti-spam law that legally requires things like “double opt-in” and easy methods of unsubscribing. Outlook may not satisfy the anti-spam regulations.

The solution is very simple, and in many cases, free for small businesses!

There are a number of mass email providers that allow you to lodge your emails via a website, providing features like list management (covering all the anti-spam requirements), detailed statistics, sign up forms for your website, and send scheduling.

At 1300 Web Pro, we use Mailchimp. Mailchimp is free for databases of up to 500 subscribers. It is a very powerful platform and very easy to use. We have recommended it to other businesses, such as Star Gardentown Café, who also have great things to say about it now.

Wrap Up

I look forward to reading the responses to my question – what would you do if you were the Virgin Blue CEO? Remember to visit the comment section and share your opinion.

If you send mass e-mail to your customers, please consider using a tool like Mailchimp.

If you don’t send mass e-mail to your customers, it might be a good thing to start thinking about…

James Deck
1300 Web Pro
Twitter: @1300WebPro

Image credit: Nick Broughall's article at Gizmodo


  1. Thanks for the tip on mailchimp James. Might use that myself and for some clients. Not sure that you can blame poor old Outlook for "user error" though - clearly that wasn't what happened with Virgin. Must say I was disappointed not to move up to "Gold" class - but I'm firmly in the "we all make mistakes" camp.

  2. I think we all make mistakes, the severity of virgin's may have been a let down to some but the fact is, they are in their own right to retract their statement. It's their PR that can suffer.
    In saying that though, loosing the revenue that is people flying enough times to be in the 'gold' class could hurt them greatly financially. Especially after they struggled after the GFC and the rising costs involved in flying planes.

    Mail Chimp is a great program. Not only is it a safeguard against becoming accused of spamming (Who can afford 1.1 million in fines PER DAY!)

    We have been using Mailchimp in the cafe for a few months now and just the post analytics alone is well worth using the program.

    Star Gardentown Cafe

  3. hhmm mailchimp looks good. I've been using constantcontact with great results, but mailchimp might be worth a look. Thanks for the tip.

    I got the virgin email and I must confess my immediate response was that someone had stuffed up. I didn't take it seriously at all... because I only fly once or twice a year so clearly I didn't qualify.

    Fortunately I've never stuffed up to that extent, but I'm always cautious about what I say in a 'reply all' incase someone I don't want to see my response is bcc'd...

    I have a client though that sent an email to his partner outlining the huge margins he had in a contract he'd won, and unwittingly cc'd the new client. As soon as he'd pressed enter he realised what he had done. Embarrasing times for him when he got a call from the new client asking to 'please explain'.

    It is something I'm always conscious of though.

  4. Thanks all for your replies.

    John, you're right -- Virgin Blue's problem was much bigger then the typical "Outlook" issue. I was attempting to show a similar issue a small business may experience in comparison to VB.

    Dave, I didn't know the fines were that substantial! Thanks for sharing.

    Shane, reading about the "wrong recipient" client -- I can only imagine how their heart sank after clicking that send button.

    So people who followed the link to Gizmodo might have seen my opinion already, but just in case, I said:

    "This story amazed me. We have seen the number of mass-email stuff ups rise dramatically lately.

    "Businesses need to be more cautious and have more oversight with their mass-emailing programs. It should be technically impossible to send an e-mail like this — the business logic should prevent it — so I hope for Virgin’s sake it was a true programming bug rather then a lack of business logic altogether.

    "All that said, I can completely understand they can’t give a large number of passengers free lounge memberships as it would congest the lounges, annoying genuine members (not to mention annoying frequent flyers who wheren’t lucky enough to get the ‘accidental e-mail’).

    "On the otherhand, in my opinion they are mad for not offering *something*. A lot of people will be in your shoes, not sure what emotion to be feeing.

    "If they had said 'you can have $50 off you next flight' all the sudden you would be a happy chappy. The cost to the business would not be nil, but would be within the acceptable loss to negate the negative impact of this stuff up.

    "All of this is in my humple opinion, of course."

    In other words...
    I believe, from a customer service and image point of view, providing something, no matter how small, would have been a good plan. But not lounge access...

  5. I am pleased to say it is interesting that this blog has a great variety of viewpoints to better understand the situation and that is what most caught my attention and has a great variety of comments Whether in their hands or someone else's, this is an idea whose time has come. The users want more. And they're ready to help.


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