Business Lesson #83: What to do when your customers complain

Business Lesson #83: What to do when your customers complain

Corporations do a lot of things well, but one thing that some of them could use a little help with is how to say I’m sorry when they screw up. Historically, like George Bush, most companies are not very good at saying “I’m sorry. I screwed up.” Recently some very familiar names have been getting a lot of practice in the fine art of the apology: Toyota, BP, Goldman Sachs, Apple Computers, anyone who has ever held public office in the state of Louisiana, and for my friends in Seattle who follow baseball, the 2010 Seattle Mariners. You see, corporations aren’t perfect. They’re human, just like you and me (at least according to the U.S. Supreme Court).

As most of you know by now, I am an award-winning business expert. (And by award-winning, I’m referring to the time I won a white ribbon – fourth place – in my tenth grade business project for my idea of starting a company that sold over-priced coffee with fancy names in stores with dim lighting, smooth jazz and wireless Internet. Curse you, Howard Shultz.) I want to help those entrepreneurs who are planning to make a bone-headed business decision by offering you my expert counsel on the steps required to effectively apologize for your future mistakes.

Corporations don’t intentionally set out to anger and alienate their customers – unless they’re a healthcare insurance provider, that is. Usually it’s just that a good idea gets implemented poorly. Or some unintended consequences occur which nobody in the marketing department could have possibly anticipated. Like when that cereal company – whose name will be withheld so they won’t sue me – decided to do a promotion with a national hardware chain – whose name will be withheld so they sue me either – and they decided it would be a neat idea to include a packet of one-inch nails in every box of say, Fruit Loops cereal. Who knew that the folks in production would forget to actually put the nails in a pouch to keep them from separate from the actual cereal contents?

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