The Art of the Apology.
If ever you find yourself in the position of having to apologize to one customer -- or legions of them -- here's a word of advice. Figure out what you're apologizing for. If the one thing you say or do is not healing for the offense, it's almost worse than not apologizing at all.
Just a few years ago, customers weren't mobilized to share their brand love -- and brand hate -- with the masses. But now they are. So you need to monitor the blogosphere for disgruntled customers and make it right with them.
This post is motivated by an incredibly bad -- scratch that, and substitute legendarily bad -- customer experience I had in Chicago while attending the Marketing to Moms conference. Here was the "service" I got from my hotel:
1). Didn't have a room for me when I arrived in Chicago, despite my reservation.
2). Put me up at a neighboring hotel for the night but insisted I return for the remaining nights due to the terms of my reservation (gee, thanks, Hotels.com).
3). Did not, as promised, fetch my luggage the next day from the "spillover" hotel while I was attending all-day conference.
4). Stuff that didn't work: card key, hallway lights, Internet, TV remote control, hotel-provided umbrella (very, very necessary the last 2 days of my trip).
5). Unrefrigerated minibar (warm drinks and spoiled chocolate).
My experience was so bad that I wondered if a new reality TV show were being launched in Chicago where folks from unrelated industries got to pretend they worked in the hospitality industry for 72 hours.
How did the hotel "make up" their no-reservation gaffe? By giving me a penthouse suite and free passes for a full breakfast. Sounds generous. But clearly no one considered what mattered to me.
Does a scaredy cat like myself value sleeping alone in a large suite with full dining room (complete with mahogany dining room table) and two bathrooms? No! Just give me a tiny room. But, please, make sure my Internet works so I don't have to return emails from the lobby of the hotel at 11 p.m.
Does a conference attendee value free breakfast? No, we're up and at 'em at the crack of dawn, eating breakfast at the conference.
So you see, they tried to say they were sorry. But they overlooked me, the customer. And all they needed to do was ask: "how can we make this right?" Remember these six words. They are perhaps your most powerful defense against an unhappy customer.