People appreciate a good apology. But what makes up a good apology?

  1. It’s meant genuinely
  2. It tries to make things better by offering some sort of reassurance that the issue won’t happen again or some sort of compensation
  3. It comes early and often

The thing is, most large companies (and plenty of small ones) are afraid to admit any mistake. They think it makes them look bad, and they’re much happier trying to hide the fact that anything went wrong. But often hiding issues makes things worse (anyone remember the red ring of death?). And a balated, inauthentic apology is insulting to a customer feeling real pain.

When you apologize early, it’s true: you may be tipping people off that you screwed up. They may not have known you screwed up, and you just told them.

But if you’re apologizing genuinely and truly trying to solve the issue, people won’t think less of you, they’ll think more. They’ll reward you.

Case in point – Netflix sent Roderick Silva an email apologizing for downtime he wasn’t aware of and giving him free credit he could apply to his next billing. A traditional corporation would be aghast! You ADMITTED there was downtime? He didn’t know about it and you TOLD him? You said it was OUR FAULT? You gave him FREE CREDIT??

Yes, they did. And they engendered themselves to Roderick. They apologized before he said WTF, and in doing so actually gained points instead of losing them (and got some free press on his blog).

The other day at UserVoice we accidentally charged some users who weren’t supposed to be charged. We refunded them the next morning, and they may have never noticed. But we wanted to be transparent and genuine and show that we care about them all the time, not just when they’re complaining. Here’s what I sent them:

Hey there,

Yesterday we charged the card attached to your UserVoice account $89…accidentally. It pains me to say that word, but the truth is that we made some changes to our plans yesterday and it affected everyone who signed up via the AppSumo bundle. Our bad.

We’ve refunded your money as of this morning. It may take a few business days to show up, as these things do. If you don’t see it by next week, please let me know.

Sorry for the confusion, and please rest assured that, while I sure hope this doesn’t happen again, we will always resolve any issues as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns (about this or UserVoice in general), and thanks for giving UserVoice a go – I hope it’s treating you well so far!

Have a nice Tuesday,

-Evan Hamilton
Community Manager, UserVoice

Did any of them, surprised to discover we charged them, send me an angry email? Nope. But I did get this email:

email from Mark saying this is just plain excellent customer service

Never would have gotten that if I hadn’t sent that email.

“Sorry” photo courtesy of Butupa