How Zappos Apologizes: Using ‘Bad News’ To Improve the Relationship, Plus Creatively and Proactively Increase Customer Value


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Every now and again, an example of genuine customer-centric culture, strategy and tactical execution pops up. Here is a recent one that caught my eye. This is a real letter from Zappos, received by a real (and loyal, but disappointed) customer, which turned a negative transactional experience into a positive:

“Dear Ms X,

I wish that we were delivering one of our typical upbeat, happy messages; but this time, I have some not-as-good news. Unfortunately, we were unable to process the (brand and model of shoe), on your recent order. The merchandise didn’t pass quality inspection, and we don’t want to send you items that are not up to our quality standards.

Since the item is unavailable and we don’t have a replacement item, we have canceled your order and issued a refund to your PayPal account. Please be advised that based on Paypal’s crediting policies, it could take up to 30 days for your credit to appear back in your statement.

We realize that this issue must be disappointing to you, and we sincerely apologize for the situation. At we understand the importance of the customer experience, which includes the web site, customer service and support, and the actual fulfillment and timely delivery of your order; and we hope that you will give us the opportunity to prove our commitment to this in the future. We try our best to make sure everything goes smoothly, but on occasion there are unfortunate situations such as these that arise.

As a token of our sincerely [assume they mean sincerity], please be aware that we will be sending you a separate email with a coupon code to use on in the future.

Once you receive the coupon code, you will be able to use this coupon on any order within the next 90 days. To use the coupon, place the code in the space provided at the bottom of the shopping cart page. Underneath the grand total you will see a link that says “Have a Gift Card, Gift Certificate or Coupon Code? Add it here!” This will open the box where you can enter in your coupon code. Please be sure to click “Update Grand Total” to ensure that the coupon is applied to your order. Please note, this coupon code is one-time use and is only valid when used with the email address attached to your account.

Once again, Ms X, we want to apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you. We appreciate your patience and understanding with this unfortunate matter and look forward to fulfilling all of your future shopping needs.

From all of us at Zappos, we appreciate you as a customer and we appreciate your patience and understanding with this unfortunate matter. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us as we are here 24/7.”

The letter is signed by a member of Zappos’ Customer Loyalty Team, who also provides a telephone number and email address, if future communication is warranted.

Even though the letter is clearly standardized, few could fail to appreciate a such a proactive, and value-add, response, anticipating a customer’s potential disappointment – – but focusing on the next order and continuing the relationship. Beyond being just customer-friendly, the letter absolutely reflects well-known Zappos’ customer-centric culture and data-centric, value-driven processes. With such everyday performance of strategy and tactics, it’s little wonder that Zappos is held in such high regard.


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