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Case study: How to apologize to your customers when things go badly wrong

| Jun 6, 2012 85 views No Comments

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how to apologise to your customersWhen things went pear-shaped over at MozLand, they did so in a big way. The result was lots of unhappy customers, but their response is a case study in how to apologize for problems that seriously affect your customers.

You can read the full text of their apology over on the SEOMoz site but here are the elements of what they did right.

1. Fess up early

I’m not a customer of their services, just a reader of their blog but from the description in the first part of their apology, it’s pretty clear that they had a major melt-down. Rather than offer weak excuses or saying “it wasn’t so bad”, they owned up to the issue. They did this in the first sentence of their response.

2. Tell everyone who was affected

SEOMoz posted the apology on their main blog feed which has 100,000+ RSS subscribers and 120,000+ Twitter followers. They didn’t hide the problem. They didn’t try to find just the people that had been affected and email them a private message. They told the world that there had been problems.

3. Apologize

It sounds simple. However, many companies hide behind 51 kinds of “the dog ate my homework”. In SEOMoz’s case, they didn’t try to dodge the issue. They just said sorry simply and clearly in the second sentence.

“We want to first apologize for any inconveniences or problems that these issues caused you.”

They followed that up with another apology at the end of their statement.

You will find that if you apologize for what is your fault, clearly and sincerely, you will eliminate 90% of the customer anger. Everyone makes mistakes and customers accept that sometimes, things do happen. If you are sincere in the apology, you will find that they are much more likely to forgive you than if you find reasons why it wasn’t really your fault, even if it wasn’t.

The worst mistake companies make in this area is to find fault with the customer at this point: “you didn’t log in properly”, may be a reason but not an excuse. It’s your job to make sure that customers do log in properly.

But remember, if you make a similar mistake two, three or four times, customers will consider that you are not serious about your apology and this will turn against you.

4. Clearly state what happened and why

Get to the root of what caused the customer problem, clearly explain what happed and why it happened. In the case of SEOMoz, they have broken the issue down into multiple lines of sub-issues. This “Issue” list clearly identifies what when wrong and why.

If you have not already corrected the immediate issue, let customers know when it will be resolved. Resist the urge to give a better ETA on the fix that you can reliably deliver.

Telling a customer the fix will be completed on Wednesday and delivering it in Thursday just makes things worse. However, telling them the fix will be sorted by Friday and delivering on Thursday will get you points. Same delivery time, very different outcomes.

Many years ago someone told me:

“Customers like good news, they dislike bad news but they really hate surprises.”

It’s a good motto to live by.

5. Fix it

Seems like this should go without saying, but get on your bike and fix the problem as fast as possible.

6. Tell customers why it will not happen again

Most companies breath a sigh of relief when the “Fix it” element is done but it is not enough; you need to go on and tell customers why they will not experience this problem again. Closing the loop like this demonstrates to them that you are serious about resolving the problem and preventing it from occurring again.

In the customer feedback research that we have performed into identifying what drives customer loyalty in IT companies, we have found that this closing the loop process is often more important than solving the problem the first place. Your customers have been inconvenienced and they want to be reassured that it will not happen again.

So that is what SEOMoz did right. What are your best suggestions for apologizing to customers when things go wrong? Please share in the comments below.

More Information

If you want to learn more about what your customers really think, why not download our free report: How to implement an effective customer feedback system.

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