Don’t Make Excuses . . . Just Apologize

Your customers are usually smarter than you think. Some of them are even smarter than you are. I used to work for a business that thought differently. When we created products, we thought, “Why kind of idiotic stuff will they fall for next?” When we wrote advertising copy, we always made the most hyperbolic (see “Word to the Wise,” below) claims we could come up with. And when we made a mistake, we buried it. That business made money. For a while, it made a lot of money. But eventually the weight of our transgressions began to pull things apart at the seams.

When the sand started coming out of the bag, it emptied fast. I’m older now and less of a smart aleck. I still believe in selling strong, but I’ve come to understand that the only way to make a business work in the long term is to begin with good products, sell their benefits honestly with passion, and fess up quickly when you make mistakes. The folks at ETR made a mistake a few weeks ago. A message that was sent out to our readers had the wrong date in the title. When I saw it, I contacted Patrick C., who handles that part of the business. “That was my fault,” he said. “I’ll fix it right away.”

And before the end of the afternoon, he’d sent out the following message:

Dear ETR Reader, A quick note to apologize for the error in today’s message. It was incorrectly dated December 23, 2004. If you accidentally deleted it thinking it was an old message, don’t worry. I have included it below. Also, I’ve been informed that some of our readers did not receive our holiday catalog this weekend. This was a limited-time offer that included some of the deepest discounts we’ve ever offered, plus the ETR Goal Setting Program as a bonus. Since this combination of discounts may never be repeated, I’ve included a link to that message too. Click here to view our holiday catalog: Sincerely, Patrick C.

Patrick did three good things:

1. He pointed out the mistake, took responsibility, and apologized immediately.

2. He provided a solution. (The message was included, corrected.)

3. He reminded readers of a current advertising offer.

The result was good in three ways:

1. Patrick and the ETR people felt good about doing the right thing.

2. Several ETR readers took advantage of the last-minute offer.

3. At least one reader was pleased with the customer-service response.

In an e-mail received the next day, Patrick got this message:

Patrick: I am a businessman in a service industry that strives to stay ahead of the game through education, awareness, and service to others. I am constantly on the prowl for examples of outstanding customer service, and then I buy from those people. I have been reading your ETR on almost a daily basis and like many, I am sure, was a bit skeptical about some of your literature and advertisements. You have won a customer with your most recent message. I was not negatively impacted by the mistake, but your willingness to acknowledge it, offer a solution, and deliver makes me want to do business with you. I will be ordering one of the subscriptions from you. Thank you for your integrity and service to your readership.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]