Saying sorry at Christmas

I’m beginning to believe that organisations have forgotten how to say sorry; not just on a person to person level, but corporately.

Take Tesco’s latest foray into public apology…

It seems that some of this year’s Christmas turkeys weren’t quite up to scratch, with customers complaining they were sold “rancid, rotten” birds. The social media vituperation was typically swift:

The Guardian quoted Carl Barber, from Essex, saying:

“This was bought only a few days ago and it’s out of date. 23 quid wasted now have no Xmas turkey for Xmas day.”

Another customer, Kirsten Shore, hit Twitter to say:

“Our first time hosting and a rotten turkey from @Tesco ruined our day! I’m devastated! Thanks @Tesco for selling me a gone off turkey and wrecking my first Christmas day cooked at my home!”

Others said the duff birds had made them ill, making Tesco about as popular as the Christmas uncle who arrives, necks half the bottle of malt you’ve been saving then snores through The Great Escape.

Tesco, of course, had a response:

“We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of great-quality British turkeys this Christmas. We have exceptionally high standards so we will look to address the small number of complaints in recent days. We will get in touch with each customer so we can investigate how these instances may have happened.”

Would you apologise like that to your gran?

It’s still the season of goodwill, so I’ll pass over the slightly corporate tone.

Sorry, actually I won’t. It’s too important. “…investigate how these instances may have happened” sounds like it’s come from a Random Apol-o-Matic Bot. At least try to sound human when you say sorry. And “…in recent days”? Really? They’re talking turkey, not Wimbledon strawberries – when do you think people complained?

The real beef (rather than turkey) is in the content. Imagine. You were the one to sell Granny her Christmas turkey this year and it turns out to be rotten. How would you say sorry?

“I’ve sold you loads of great-quality British turkeys before, Gran, and I have exceptionally high standards, so I will look to address this year’s small complaint. I will get in touch with you to investigate how this instance may have happened.”

You’d be lucky to walk out without a severe clip round the ear and being impaled on a bottle of ginger wine.

It’s not actually an apology at all

That apology isn’t an apology at all. It’s three lines of shiny-faced corporate puff that belittles the customer, bigs up Tesco and fails to address the complaints.

It’s great that Tesco has sold hundreds of thousands of great-quality British turkeys this Christmas.

But it sounds as though those complaining customers didn’t get one of them.

And they didn’t get an apology either. There’s not even a sniff of “we would like to apologise…”, let alone a proper ‘we’re sorry”. In fact, the customer barely gets a mention.  And an apology isn’t really the place to point out how great you are.

“Well, no-one else complained”

Rather than making those complaining customers feel like the diner who sent back a tough steak only to be told huffily “well, no-one else complained!”, how about something a little more human? It’s late, I’ve over-indulged and it’s Christmas, but I’d try something like:

“We’re so sorry that some of our customers have had turkeys from us that weren’t up to the standard we – or they – would want. We’ll be getting in touch with each of you in the next few days to find out what happened and to put it right.”

Follow that with a call from someone senior to each customer, do all you can to put it right, and I’d bet that bottle of ginger wine there’d be a very much more positive social response. Not to mention some customers who believed Tesco care.

The lesson? Like the best midnight mass sermons, I’ll keep it short (you’ve got mince pies still to eat):

If you’re going to apologise, make it simple, clear and human.

That’ll do.

Responding to customer complaints

Help your teams to respond to complaints in a human, customer-centric way.

Responding to customer complaints

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