Dunning emails are sent as a reminder to customers to settle their debt to a subscription business. They are a necessity for a large number of businesses, as customers are often overdue in paying their accounts receivable for various reasons.

For most people, the term “dunning emails” has a bad connotation to it. Business owners feel uncomfortable when they have to send out dunning emails, and customers are usually annoyed when they receive one.

A badly written dunning email just makes the business owner seem greedy in the customer’s eyes. Most dunning emails don’t even accomplish their goal, as 85% of customers fail to respond to dunning emails that remind them to update their card details.

This statistic seems very discouraging to business owners who rely on dunning emails to recover their profit, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Dunning emails are actually a very good way to get in touch with clients who need to settle their debt. That is, if you know how to compose them.

Dunning definition and how it works

Dunning is the process of communicating with customers methodically to ensure all accounts receivable will be collected. In simpler terms, it’s the process of contacting those customers whose payments were unsuccessful in the hopes of getting them to retry those payments.

Failed payments are an unfortunate reality for a lot of companies, and many business owners think that they are intentional. Even though some customers choose not to settle their bill in time, this is actually only one of the reasons why failed payments occur. In fact, it’s one of the least common ones.

Most failed payments happen by accident without the customer even realizing what has happened. Some customers realize they owe money to the company only after they receive a dunning email.

Some of the reasons for a failed payment include:

  • Expired credit card
  • Stolen or lost credit card
  • New billing address
  • Customer going over their credit card limit
  • Customer getting a new credit card without updating it on the account

Whatever the reason for the failed payment is, the action taken is generally the same – dunning. Every business has its own unique way of how they approach dunning. Some do it automatically, while some prefer to perform this process manually and with more personalization.

What dunning software is available?

If you only have a handful of customers, it won’t be too complicated to compose and send dunning emails manually. However, most companies that have to deal with a large number of declined payments from their customer base choose to automate the process of sending dunning emails.

Here are some tools that you can use to send your dunning emails more efficiently.

Churn Buster

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Churn Buster is a dunning tool that solves the issues caused by failed payments using the following features:

  • Optimized retry schedule. Churn Buster campaigns are designed to contact the customer only after a failed payment has been retried two times, as a high number of charges are usually cleared after retrying the card.
  • Card update landing page. When customers click on the link to update their card, they will be taken straight to the Churn Buster landing page that allows them to finish this task on the spot.
  • Mobile optimization. Because a lot of customers choose to update their credit card information from their mobile devices, this tool allows them to do that.
  • Detailed reports. Keep track of all payments that are, but also retention performance and email deliverability, to track exactly how successful your dunning email campaign is.


While this tool will help you send fully customizable dunning emails, it also has a plethora of other useful features:

  • In-app notification bar. Before the need for a dunning email even arises, Stunning will send an in-app notification to a customer when their card is about to expire or they have a failed payment.
  • Dunning SMS. Don’t restrict yourself to just dunning emails. With Stunning, you can also send dunning SMS messages to your customers and stay in touch with them, even if they don’t check their email regularly.
  • Backup payment methods. This feature allows customers to add a backup card that will be charged in case the first payment method is declined.
  • Smart retries. With this feature, Stunning takes a smart approach to retrying your failed payment when it deems that the chance of recovering revenue is the highest.


This is another great tool that will send quality dunning emails to your customers by utilizing the following features:

  • Failed payment recovery process. Every email that is sent with Churnback is optimized based on the failed payments, so the client receives a highly optimized email every time.
  • Targeted reminders. The tool will send targeted reminders to customers before their card expires so they can update their information.
  • Recovery funnels. The recovery funnels that Churnback uses are constantly optimized so your company will be able to benefit from its features and allow the tool to recover lost revenue by itself.

What does your dunning email need to say?

A large number of companies take a no-nonsense, corporate approach to their dunning emails. They treat them as written contracts their customers need to honor by all means. However, this kind of approach will probably do more damage than anything else.

There’s no need to be harsh with your customers. Your dunning emails need to retain your customers, not scare them away. To accomplish that, you need to remember the following things when composing your emails.


Every email your company sends to customers needs to be personalized, and that includes dunning emails.

Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates and if you don’t take the time to personalize the email, there’s a high chance the customer will ignore it.

Personalize the email based on the information you have about your customer. It’s good to know a lot about your customers because that information will allow you to tailor the email specifically to them. However, even if you use just the customer’s first name, the email will be much more effective.

Tell them what happened

There’s no need to beat around the bush when you’re composing a dunning email. A long email body for something that can be said in just a few short sentences is not only necessary, but it also wastes your and the customer’s time.

Instead of writing fluff, get straight to the point and tell your customer what happened and why you are contacting them. Tell them that you tried charging their credit card and that the payment was declined, and explain the reason why that happened.

Explain the amount due

One piece of information that is necessary in a dunning email is the amount due the customer needs to pay. Once again, this is something that should be said in one sentence and it’s necessary because it’s more convenient for the customer to have all the information they need in this email.

Explain the next steps

No email you send out to customers is complete without a clear call to action (CTA), including dunning emails. After you explain to them that their payment is declined and how much money they owe, your CTA needs to tell the customer how they can resolve the issue.

Give the customers a link that will take them to where they can update their credit card information or provide a different solution for the problem. Make the process as simple as possible and don’t require the customer to log in or open another window.

After this link, set a time frame in which the customer needs to complete your call to action. A time limit is important because it creates a sense of urgency. Without it, you leave the issue too open and it will result in the customer putting it in the back-burner and possibly even forgetting about it.

Offer an alternative line of contact

Allow your customers to reply to your dunning emails if they have any further questions, but also offer an alternative line of contact. Remember that customers don’t like to communicate through email but prefer to talk to a representative of the company one-on-one to solve any issue.

That is why you need to encourage the email recipient to contact customer support if they want to, and leave detailed explanations on how they can do that.

Keep it branded

Most companies send branded emails to customers, which means that their logo is clearly displayed, usually in the top left corner. If your company sends branded marketing emails, make sure to keep your dunning emails branded as well to ensure your branding is consistent.

If your customers are used to seeing branded emails from you but then receive a dunning email that doesn’t have your logo and is just a plain-text email, it will not seem trustworthy.

There are too many phishing scams out there, and if it’s not clear that the email is from you, the customer will probably think it’s a scam and won’t click on the link you provided. Stay consistent with your brand and not only will your emails seem more trustworthy, but you will also add personality to them.

Optimizing dunning emails

As we’ve already mentioned, dunning emails need to be carefully written if you want them to serve their purpose. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to make sure your dunning emails are completely optimized.

The subject line and preview text

Email is one of the main communication channels for many people. After all, the average person receives 121 emails per day. Naturally, they won’t open all of those emails but will choose those which seem important. Most people make this choice by looking at the subject line and preview text of the email.

With that in mind, you need to make sure that your subject line is compelling and attention-drawing. As for your preview text, which is the line of text that shows up in the recipient’s inbox, it needs to be optimized to show what kind of action is required from your customer.

Use empathy

A lot of people feel embarrassed when they receive a dunning email, even though this isn’t something they need to be ashamed of. This feeling is intensified when they receive an email about overdue payment from someone who sounds like a machine.

That is why all of your dunning emails need to have a friendly and empathic tone so your customers don’t feel uncomfortable after receiving them. If you show compassion, the chances of your customer responding to the dunning email are much higher.

Send emails from a real person and enable replies

Customers trust an email that was sent by a real person, and they are also more likely to reply to this email. Sign each email with the name of the person who sent it, and also include their title in the company, their picture and a graphic image of their signature at the bottom of the email.

Make sure to send these emails from an email address your customers can respond to in case they want to ask any further questions.

Include a clear CTA (link to update payment details)

As we already mentioned, the CTA in dunning emails urges the recipient to update their credit card information. This CTA needs to be clear so the customer actually performs this action. Include a short instruction within the email body that explains all the steps the customer needs to take.

Remind them of the benefits of your product/service

Some customers are reluctant when they need to update their credit card information and won’t respond to a dunning email. To solve this problem, remind customers in your dunning email of all the benefits they will receive if they re-input their payment information.

If they forgot why they became your customer in the first place, you can remind them by listing all the great features and benefits of your product or service. Make sure to also talk about new features you’ve added to “sweeten the deal”.

In addition, you can share a blog post that talks about your product/service and a link to a customer success story to provide the email recipient with social proof.

Use urgency

The first email you send doesn’t need to have a sense of urgency, but each follow-up email does. With every new email, escalate the urgency in your tone but always be polite. There’s no need to sound demanding or threatening, as that will make your customers see you as a debt collector.

You can use certain terms to trigger people into action such as “second notice” or “final notice”. Always tell them how much time they have left and what will happen if they fail to update their payment information. Just keep in mind that you should never be rude to customers.

Dunning emails examples

If you need some inspiration for your own dunning emails, take a look at these great examples below.

Stitch Fix

This dunning email from Stitch Fix is the perfect example of how to talk to your customers in a friendly way for the best user experience. It also shows the CTA button prominently and allows the recipient to email them back if they have any further questions.


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This example of a dunning email from Amazon shows how to take the extra step and explain to your customers exactly how they can update their payment information step by step. It also makes it clear how much time the customer has to update the information and what will happen when that deadline passes.


This email sent by Squarespace does a good job of invoking urgency with the small detail in the top right corner, an obvious exclamation point. They didn’t need to use any type of harsh language to achieve this goal, just that one small detail. They also added their logo to show that this is a trustworthy email.

Download free dunning email templates now!

Don’t stop at dunning emails

Dunning emails are a great way to contact customers who need to update their payment information, but it shouldn’t be the only tactic you use. One additional tactic is to send SMS reminders, but there are also two other tactics that work very well.

Make personalized calls

It’s good to have your customer’s numbers for various reasons, and one of them is to make personalized outbound payment recovery calls. A call can feel much more personal than an email, but you need more preparation for a call.

This phone call needs to be personalized and provide the customer with a great experience. To accomplish, this you need to:

  • Prepare a phone script specifically for every customer segment.
  • Review the subscription history of the customer you’re calling.
  • Find the reason for the failed payment.
  • Find the last dunning email that was sent to the customer.

When your customer picks up the phone, stick to your script but don’t read directly from it. Instead, have a friendly conversation with your customer during which you will guide them through the process of payment. Make sure to call only during working hours so you don’t disturb anyone.

Take inbound calls

You always need to be available to your customers, not just through email. If your business has a telephone number that customers can use to reach you, use it to take inbound calls for failed payments.

This tactic is good because it gives the customers the freedom to call you at their convenience, but you need to be prepared for these calls at any moment. 

To prepare for inbound calls you need to do the following:

  • Prepare a general phone script.
  • Find out the reason for the call as soon as you receive it.
  • Review the caller’s subscription history during the call.
  • Find out the last time the customer was contacted and why.
  • Guide the customer through the process of updating their information.

Wrapping up

Dunning emails are a necessity for many businesses, but they don’t have to be as complicated as some people believe. In fact, they can be a great way to encourage your customers to update their payment information and even build a stronger bond with them.

If you want to create a dunning campaign that will bring back your lost profit, schedule a call with our retention specialist to take the first step toward failed payment recovery.