The value of apologies for bad service

It may be interesting to note that I wrote this article on Saturday, January 17th.

These days, I’m paying very close attention to how well I’m treated as a customer. I’ve written previously about how some pretty good-sized businesses have taken steps to make their customers feel appreciated. But what about when something goes horribly wrong (like that ever happens)?

David @ 37signals published a recent post called “The bullshit of outage language“. 37signals provides web-based productivity applications, and one of the points of failure for their business model becomes quite evident if they suffer any kind of service outage. If their service goes down, all of their customers are affected. Very similar problem to those faced by ISPs, webhost providers, telephone companies, etc.

A business should do what they can to make sure that they minimize the occurance of problems. But hey, there are going to be problems, no matter how hard they work to prevent them, no matter what type of service they provide. And when there are problems, it’s going to piss off their customers.

So doesn’t it make sense for a business, especially one in a market with lots of competition (cell phone companies, webhosts), to have a good way to apologize?

As a consumer, does it matter that a company apologize if something goes haywire and affects you?

Have you ever gotten a believable apology from a company that’s screwed up?

UPDATE - An apology received

About 6 hours after publishing Monday’s post, I received a call from the Warners’ Stellian customer service manager (can’t remember if she said THE manager or just A manager) regarding my latest problem. She indicated that she’d heard about my issue via this blog and offered to have someone come out to fix the problem. Since Erin had already given them a call 45 minutes earlier, we’d already had an expedited service call set up.

She then apologized for the fact that I had to call back, and I believe that it was sincere. I mean, that’s got to be the worst part of a service professional’s job, to have to apologize for something that he/she didn’t actually do. I’ve had to do it many times, and it’s never fun.

And while I appreciate the fact that they recognized that the issue merited an apology, I can’t help but note that the well-worn phrase “too little, too late” was invented because of situations like this.

This same issue has been ongoing since September 18th, 2008. And it wasn’t until December 1st that we got any inkling of a sense of urgency from Warners’ Stellian about our refrigerator. Granted, it wasn’t entirely WS’s fault that the duration spans 4 months (wait times on parts and confirmations from the warranty company were largely responsible for that). But because the wrong part was ordered in September, what should have been a 1 month problem turned into a 4 month problem that required several service calls and exposed many inefficiencies in their operation.

So, while the apology (and follow-up call regarding confirming the description of the problem and scheduling) from the manager was nice to get, it came far too late in the process to have any real value. It did change my disposition about the company from angry to merely disappointed. But it hasn’t changed my mind about buying an appliance from Warners’ Stellian.


“The bullshit of outage language“ - 37signals blog