Last week, we talked about how to handle situations when your customers complain about a product defect, such as, “How come when I use your curling iron, it causes my hair to evaporate?” Of course, the best policy is to blame the problem on the customer or someone else – when in doubt blame it on al Qaeda terrorists … or Congress. You can read last week’s brilliant business advice here.
When all else fails you may have no choice but to eat crow and admit some eensy weensy tiny bit of responsibility for the problem, such as “in rare cases, some inconclusive studies have suggested that there could be a remote chance – and by remote we mean almost less than 50% – that our artificial sweetener could cause an eensy weensy tiny bit of permanent blindness and complete hearing loss in Hispanics and Pacific Islanders under the age of 70.”
In these situations, you need to craft a very carefully worded, corporate earnest and sincere apology letter – one that comes from the heart, with sincerity and earnestness – preferably ghostwritten by a professional apology letter writer in a high-priced Manhattan PR firm, who knows just the right caring words to say in order to avoid a costly class action lawsuit.
When crafting your company’s sincere official apology letter to customers, make sure it contains all of the following six elements:
Element One: State your company’s previously untarnished reputation for quality. Okay, say you’re sending out this letter to 60,000 customers because it turns out that your Junior Chemist toddlers’ play set included enough radioactive plutonium in each kit to build a miniature nuclear bomb. Regardless of the cluster f*ck your quality control team created, you must always start your letter by proudly declaring this sort of problem has never happened before in the 108-year history of your company. (It does not matter that your company started in 2007.)
Make up compelling statistics about how your company has always had a 99.5% customer satisfaction every year since 1955. Mention that in annual consumer satisfaction polls, your company was voted “The company customers would most like to hug” three times in the past five years. Be sure to include a footnote to the survey. (Don’t worry. Nobody will ever actually bother to look up this survey. Who has the time?)
Element Two: Mention your rigorous quality control procedures. Discuss how you use industry-leading safety testing procedures to ensure against the slightest possibility of product malfunctions. Mention how you disassemble and re-assemble every single piece nine times to be sure it is easy to assemble and disassemble. Don’t forget to mention that your products proudly say MADE IN AMERICA on every label – people love it when they think you’re patriotic. Don’t reveal that in actuality, everything other than the MADE IN AMERICA label was made in Taiwan.
Element Three: Apologize. This must be limited to not more than ten words maximum. I suggest something like “If you were not completely happy, we sincerely apologize.” To go on any further might imply that you actually felt bad about what happened or that you thought your company actually did something wrong. And you don’t want to leave your product liability attorneys with that impression.
Element Four: Tell them what you plan to do to fix the problem. This is where you state that you are committed to spending whatever amount of money it takes to ensure this problem never happens again (up to a maximum of $250.00) and that you will keep them posted about the improvements you make. Oh, don’t worry. You won’t actually have to spend money on improving your systems, processes and procedures. Just put into the budget a line item for say, $150,000, for the purpose of ensuring that in the future, the wheels on the Little Missy training wheels don’t fall off anymore. This line item will eventually get axed due to budget cuts and downsizing, and pretty soon everybody will have moved on to more important issues, like how your company is going to solve the problem of spontaneous combustion of your Little Missy “Hug Me” dolls.
Element Five: Thank them for being a customer. Offer them a cheesy gift. Thank them profusely for bringing this product defect issue to your attention and reiterate how grateful you are to have them as a customer. Create the impression that you are sincere by inserting their name repeatedly like this:
“MR. CRENSHAW, we at [Your company name here] want to thank you, MR. CRENSHAW, for being MR. CRENSHAW and for purchasing the Johnny Chainsaw play toy for your five-year old. We sincerely apologize to you, MR. CRENSHAW, for the small problem of the chainsaw starting on its own when the room temperature exceeds 53 degrees, and pledge to you, MR. CRENSHAW, to fix this problem immediately. Did we mention that we appreciate your business, MR. CRENSHAW?”
Then be sure to include a lovely gift (and by “lovely gift” I mean those Hello Kitty coffee mugs in your warehouse that had the defective handle so you could not sell them) as your way of thanking them for their business. Or perhaps you could include a coupon for a free upgrade to the Johnny Chainsaw DELUXE model – guaranteed not to self-start automatically at any temperature!! And then include a brief explanation of the 17-step process required for redemption of their gift coupon, including the requirement to provide five cereal box tops and copies of their previous four years’ tax returns. And in fine print, remember to state “Allow 18 – 24 months for delivery.”
Element Six: Tell them how they can get more information. In an effort to show that you want to answer all their questions, I recommend you include a short series of FAQ’s like this:
Q: What if I don’t receive my Johnny Chainsaw DELUXE play set within 18 – 24 months? What do I do then?
A: in the unlikely event that you have still remembered about this offer 18 to 24 months from now and still have not received your Johnny Chainsaw Deluxe play set, call our toll-free customer service hotline at 1-800-URSCRUDE and they will be happy to check on the status of your shipment.
You of course don’t actually have to staff a customer service hotline. That would be an added staffing expense you certainly can’t afford, thanks to all the lawsuits that have been filed against your company lately as a result of sales of your Fun-tastic Magic Finger Slicer Magical Illusion toy. Simply have all calls go to a voice mail box with an outgoing message that says something like this:
“Thank you for calling [Your company name here]. Currently we are experiencing higher than normal call volumes – because some people are a little upset that our Nutri-Power High Fiber Health Food Snack Bars have been found to cause diarrhea and migraines lasting up to three weeks.” Currently all of our customer service representatives are serving other customers. But your call is important to us. Please leave your name and number and we will call you back within 18 – 24 months.”
Follow these steps the next time your company ends up in a tight spot due to a product or service PR disaster and before you know it, your customer headaches will be leaving in droves.
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