This Time, the Customer’s Right: How to Admit Fault and Move On


Share on LinkedIn

Customer service can sometimes seem like an endless stream of apologies. But as a seasoned customer service provider, you know how important it is to grin and bear it – even when customer complaints seem like they’re coming out of left field, and especially when customers’ emotions are running wild.

But what if you’re actually wrong – as in, really, really wrong?

You Wouldn’t Be the First

Big-name companies have been wrong before, and they’ll be wrong again. Remember when Netflix unveiled Qwikster in 2011 – a move that would have split its streaming and DVD services into two separate websites? Almost immediately, the company pulled the plug.

Even further back, in one of the most infamous bad business decisions of all time, When Coca-Cola changed its renowned formula and created “New Coke” in 1985 – and protests ensued as a result. Three months later, Coca-Cola reintroduced the “Classic” formula, and their customers calmed down.

What Makes Customers Tick

For both Netflix and Coca-Cola, the problem occurred when the companies made major changes that didn’t make sense for customers. These examples represent something very important. Not only did these businesses admit fault, but they also solved the problem by giving the customers exactly what they were asking for.

The industry you’re in doesn’t matter. Customers all want the same thing: to receive the best possible product or service in exchange for what they’re paying. A tenant is going to be unhappy showing up to rent a filthy apartment, just as an online buyer will feel disappointed if the product arrives with parts missing.

The Art of a Good Apology

Problems happen, often through no fault of your own – but you might be surprised to find that they also provide the rare opportunity to connect with customers and foster a relationship of loyalty and mutual agreement.

Admitting fault isn’t easy, but it’s of utmost importance if you want to maintain or improve consumer relationships. Here’s how to do it as painlessly as possible.

  1. Apologize. Think through what the customer wants out of an apology. Customers want to be listened to, and they want to know you are genuinely sorry. Customers want you to know that the problem has affected them and caused them genuine pain. The key to a good apology, then, is to get back on the right foot with your customer. Say you’re sorry and let them know – in the sincerest way possible – that the customer is important to you.
  2. Listen to the customer’s point of view. Work with your customer to figure out the next steps. Think about what the customer is asking for, and see if you can make it happen. If not, work with them to come up with a viable compromise.
  3. Fix the problem. Once you’ve reached an agreement with the customer, it’s time to enact it. For example, the landlord with the dirty apartment should offer to hire a cleaning service. To make sure it doesn’t happen again, he should take proactive steps, like entering a contract with a property management company that can help stop these problems before they happen. Similarly, the ecommerce fulfillment service will need to offer to send the missing parts – or a replacement item with all parts included.

Final Thoughts: Apologies as Positive PR

For better or for worse, the rise of SEO and internet search has made it easy for customers to post scathing reviews of companies that didn’t meet their expectations. If you can apologize before a customer airs their grievances to the world, do so – but if not, you’ll need to follow up with that customer anyway.

If you can follow the above steps in a public response to the review, you’ll show that your business is proactive and attuned to customer needs and frustrations. Not only will the negative reviewer see your response, but so will anyone who visits your company’s profile. Handle the situation gracefully and provide a viable solution; customers may not thank you outright, but they’ll appreciate it.

Larry Alton
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here