It’s a given, at some point your business will suffer a failure that disappoints customers. How your company reacts, explains, removes the pain, and takes accountability for actions signals how you think about customers, and the collective heart of your organization. It has been proven that a genuine apology strengthens the emotional connection that a customer has with a company. Being human and prone to making mistakes, we’re in luck. We have the opportunity regularly to make amends. There’s a difference between the way an “everyday” company decides to make amends and the manner in which a beloved company (one that customers grow) decides to make amends…
Apology Decisions that Drive Business Growth (in good times and bad):
Here are five recent decisions that beloved companies have made on how to decide to earn back customers’ good graces when a misstep occurred. They are five apologies to bolster your faith that business can connect commerce with humanity … and win!
Decision #1. Netflix, the DVD-by-mail service with 10 million subscribers, prescribes to decision making that “honesty is the best recovery.” They let ALL of their customers know when something goes wrong, not just those who experienced the occasional interruption in service. In fact, on August 31, 2009, Netflix emailed a large number of its subscribers to apologize for an Xbox Live streaming outage that occurred the day before. Netflix emailed everyone that could have possibly seen this blip in their service and offered a refund—including users who didn’t suffer through it at all.
The question is: Do YOU confess to customers when a misstep occurs in your operation? Is this when you show your true colors?
Decision #2. The University of Michigan Health System decided to enable doctors, nurses and all hospital staff to exercise their natural instinct and to say “sorry” when something went wrong. An early adopter of a process that encourages transparency with healthcare providers and patients and their families, the University of Michigan encourages (without fear) a swift and caring explanation, and when appropriate, a heartfelt apology. Doctors and lawyers worried that this level of transparency and just uttering the words “sorry” would drive an increase in claims and malpractice suits. But when put into practice, the complete opposite occurred.
The question is: Can YOU suspend the fear and say “We’re sorry?”
Are you able to table the corporate response and deliver one that connects on a personal level?
Decision #3. Saying sorry well in most cases should not require a committee, consortium or legal review. Most apologies should occur spontaneously, the moment the company knows a problem occurred. And the person who first hears the news should be in a position to respond appropriately. L.L. Bean’s guarantee frees their frontline to do the right thing. It keeps them close to their small-town company culture, “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit; treat your customers like human beings and they’ll always come back for more.” True to those words, L.L. Bean’s frontline is trusted to take action, using their own best judgment to deliver a response warranted by the situation.
The question is: Can YOUR frontline rescue customers? When an unhappy customer contacts you, does your frontline have “permission” to do the right thing?
Decision #4. Southwest Airlines proactively says “sorry” to its customers every day. Each morning a group assembles to learn about passenger experiences the previous day and to anticipate passenger experiences in the current day. BEFORE customers contact them, Southwest reaches out, acknowledges any mistakes and extends an olive branch commensurate with the experience the customer encountered. A customized letter is created for each incident. Written with humility, remorse and whimsy when called for, this uniquely “Southwest” rigor won back $1,900,000 of return flights from customers in 2009.
The question is: How proactive are YOU? Do you have a recovery plan to wow customers when things go wrong?
Decision #5. Vancouver based home health care company, Nurse Next Door was born when the owners, struggling to find appropriate caregivers for their aging parents, became fed up with company after company making errors in service. Frustrated with their lack of options, they started Nurse Next Door, and decided that any errors in service would be promptly addressed with a sincere and heartfelt apology. When they slip up, Nurse Next Door sends a freshly baked “Humble Pie,” along with a note that says, “We are very humbled by our mistake and sincerely apologize for the poor service.” Nurse Next Door thrived in 2008, experiencing an increase in client growth over 25 percent. John DeHart, one of the owners, estimates that the company spent $1,500 on humble pies, but saved about $100,000 in sales.
The question is: Is your humility oven lit? Can you bake a humble pie? Acknowledging a mistake shows that you’re human. Admitting it is hard. But it’s what customers crave. Do you have the DNA to say “sorry” and mean it?
Go try this
- Every day, or at the end of each week, bring your folks together to discuss what experiences disappointed customers. Reach out personally to those customers and acknowledge what went wrong and extend an "olive branch" to right what went wrong.
- Inventory all the common glitches that sometimes get in the way of a great customer experience. Proactively create and prepare the actions as a "hero kit" that your folks can have readily available to deliver. Let them decide which is best for each situation.
- Follow up with your customers who have experienced your gesture of apology. The follow up will seal in their memory that you were genuine and that you are a "company to keep."
Beloved companies don’t consider the job done until the emotional connection with customers is restored. Why do they decide to apologize in this manner? Because it’s the right thing to do. Our mothers told us that when you hurt someone, intentionally or not, you apologize and you mean it. You right the wrong. You make peace.
(Editor's note: You can watch Jeanne interview leaders from several beloved companies, including Fred Taylor, Jr., head of Proactive Customer Service Communications at Southwest Airlines, in this video from the Net Promoter Conference in New York, February 2010.)