Business Lesson #84 – How to write an apology letter to upset customers

Business Lesson #84 – How to write an apology letter to upset customers

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:

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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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My Sister Betsy, AKA Bad Betsy in a Previous Life

My Sister Betsy, AKA Bad Betsy in a Previous Life

That’s my sister, Betsy Jones – on a good day. She’s 52 years old, but on most days acts 24: carefree, fun-loving.  But on a bad day, stay away from her because she is cursed with absolutely the worst luck of anybody I know. Take a good close look at this photo. You may think she’s on the verge of snapping – about to lose it and leap over the wall, with a one-way ticket to Crazy Town. And you would be correct.

You see, Betsy has had, well, a rather challenging life, to put it mildly. Imagine Winnie the Pooh going on an “explore”.  He comes upon a sign that says “This way to ‘Honey, Goodness, and Nice People’, that way to ‘Hell’s Burning Dungeons of Despair.’” Of course Pooh follows the sign toward ‘Honey’. Problem is, by the time Betsy gets there, the wind blew the signs around. Uh oh. That’s the story of Betsy’s life – “Blown by the wind.”

You know how some people lead a charmed life? Well, I think Betsy was put on this planet to balance out the scales – singlehandedly. It’s like Betsy has a sign on her back that reads “Go ahead, kick me again – but could you kindly do it before I get back up? – it will save me another trip down.”

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