Today’s consumers do not buy just products or services. Their purchase decisions revolve around buying into an idea and an experience, shows McKinsey’s research. A key aspect of a stellar experience – an apology, when something goes wrong.

Customers report that they prefer an apology over monetary compensation. Even in bankruptcy situations, those who apologize to the judge fare better financially. But, it goes beyond saying sorry. As author John Kudor says, a meaningful apology is “the willingness to value the relationship more than the need to be right.” Extensive studies show that an effective apology includes three elements:

  1. Acknowledging personal responsibility
  2. An explanation for why the violation occurred
  3. An offer of repair, which may undo the damage that occurred

Starbucks heeded to the research, and created a method for managing customer complaints, called LATTE:

  • Listen to the customer with interest.
  • Acknowledge the situation, without getting defensive or questioning the customer. Avoid using the word ‘if’. For example, “I’m sorry if this was inconvenient”, or “I’m sorry if you feel offended.”
  • Take action to solve the problem, or share solutions which will be implemented. The idea is to let customers know that you care about them, and are willing to learn from the situation.
  • Thank the customer for sharing feedback and creating an opportunity for growth.
  • Explain why the situation occurred, and how it will be prevented in future. Avoid making excuses, like ‘our team member was sick’, ‘it was busy’ etc. It undermines the apology.

The email below is an apology from Flock, a collaboration platform, which shows the above practices:

Early last week, some Flock users experienced unplanned downtime, for which we are extremely sorry. This was an unusual occurrence for us, and we want to share an explanation of what happened.

The short version of the story is that our services were affected due to an issue on Amazon Web Services (AWS). We identified the root cause, fixed it, and are implementing changes to minimize the chances of it happening again. Here’s a detailed, technical explanation of what happened:

Like thousands of SaaS companies globally, we rely on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deliver our services to you. On Tuesday, 15th May at 12:19 pm GMT, AWS reported issues with its Relational Database Service (RDS), followed by issues with its Application Load Balancing (ALB). Due to these issues, many of you were unable to log into Flock, send or receive messages, or search for older messages.

We are already implementing changes to avoid such a situation in the future. We’ve increased server capacity to handle unexpected loads, ensuring that our users are not affected. We understand how critical Flock is to your organization. We assure you that we take such occurrences (rare as they may be) very seriously and resolve them on priority. Again, please accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused.”

Such apologies go a long way in strengthening customer loyalty. How would you like to implement them?

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