When you’ve messed up and there’s a lot of people who are going to see you’ve messed up, it feels like the end of days. You scrabble about trying to fix it, sweating with dread of the instant backlash the internet facilitates.
But instead of seeing your screw-up as a negative (OK, maybe not instead – as well as), try to see it as an opportunity.
A really good apology can actually benefit your business more than if the crisis just hadn’t happened in the first place. This isn’t a ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ thing: it’s an chance for you to show grace under pressure.
Choose your forum
Where are your customers? Lots of people will turn to social media for information, so make sure you know which platform that’s going to be. Twitter is a fairly safe bet and means you don’t have to annoy people with push notifications or emails while the problem is ongoing.
We’ve just become aware of an issue with our phone lines – DM us if you can’t get through and we’ll try to help you.
Tell the truth ASAP
You might not have the full picture yet but acknowledging that there is a problem that you need to look into should happen right away.
Don’t try to keep this quiet by just contacting those who you think are affected: go community-wide. Make sure it’s clear what the problem was so your customers aren’t wondering if they were hit or not.
Honesty is attractive and unusual, and it’s very hard to stay mad when someone is being open and apologetic. Don’t be too cute with it if it’s a serious problem, but some self-deprecation wouldn’t go amiss.
“Please excuse our mess-up earlier this morning. Someone clearly hadn’t had their coffee before sending the weekly newsletter and a lot of you got it twice. Sorry for filling up your inboxes – like anyone needs more email on a Monday morning.”
Keep people updated
It’s helpful to set timings on when the problem will be fixed, but make sure you let people know well in advance if you can’t meet that promise – and why. Even if there’s nothing to report, that’s important information. Let people know you’re still working on it.
“We’re really sorry about the login problems some of our customers are experiencing today. We’re working on a fix right now and will update you on our progress within the next hour.”
Summarise after the event
Blog about the incident, with more detail and a full apology, along with next steps. This makes sure anyone who didn’t hear about the problem while it was going on can hear the full story from you, rather than from complaints elsewhere.
Things to cover:
- What happened and when
- Why it happened
- How it was fixed
- How you’ll stop it happening again
- How you’re going to make it up to your customers
Email all those who were affected
A personal apology goes a long way, especially if the incident was serious enough to require compensation. Try to use personalised greetings and sign off from a real human that customers can reply to.
How you deal with adverse situations is part of your business’s image. Showing grace under pressure and a practical approach to problem solving can raise you in your customers’ estimations. It’s not the problem that’s the problem – it’s dealing with it badly.
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