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It’s inevitable in every business that something may go wrong. Businesses operate in the real world and employ human beings, and customers understand that mistakes happen. What they don’t like, and will take to the Internet in disgust over, is when companies lie or place the blame on undeserved parties, especially if the screw-ups cost customer money or endanger their safety.
Depending on the level of disaster, you may be speaking to the media, posting a small note on your blog, or taping up a sign in your store. However, the customers to whom you’ve been marketing by email are your core fans, especially your long-term subscribers, and they may appreciate a more personal dialog.
This is a good thing! Above all, when disaster strikes, customers appreciate:
- Early warning. If possible, don’t wait until after the worst possible thing has happened to admit that difficulties may arise and alternate plans may be necessary.
- Admit you screwed up. It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid: admitting you did something wrong is embarrassing, but in an era of crooked CEO’s and big business bailouts, customers sincerely respect an honest admittance of error.
- A reasonable explanation. You don’t have to indulge any private company details, but you can build up customer trust and loyalty if you can explain that 1) you know why it happened, and, 2) you are prepared to prevent it from happening again. Note: do not try to blame it all on one scapegoat. This isn’t the 60’s; the public has become too educated in public scandal to believe that eliminating one “bad egg” will cure a whole company.
- Provide restitution that is commensurate to the problem. If you created a product that didn’t work, offer a refund or replacement in a way that is easy for customers to receive either. In your email, link to the landing page that has clear instructions on how to receive the replacement or refund.
Remember: if a significant proportion of customers are complaining, there must be something wrong. When gaming company EA was voted Worst Company in America by the readers of the corporate watchdog blog Consumerist.com two years in a row, EA COO Peter Moore responded in a vitriolic, sarcastic email, telling readers if they don’t like EA games, they shouldn’t buy them. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go over well and didn’t help the disappointing concurrent release of SimCity (2013). The game has been crucified in online communities and the media for its anti-customer policies; it currently has 1.5 stars on Amazon.com, the lowest rating of all of EA’s simulation-based games, with sales far below expectations.
If delivered with tact and a tasteful, minimalist format, a business blow-up response email will encourage your followers — who know and like your company — to spread the news in a positive light on social media. Your business can recover if you carry off the mistake with honest, tact, and open communication.