In 2018, KFC had a huge problem. A supply chain issue caused problems for nearly 90 percent of its UK locations. The result? Around eight hundred locations ran out of a key ingredient: Chicken.
Understandably, customers felt frustrated by the inconvenience. But when they opened their newspapers that Friday, they got the apology they craved. A full page ad showed an empty paper bucket, strewn with a dusting of crumbs. Instead of KFC's usual logo, it had a cheeky message: "FCK."
Even if customers were annoyed by the disruption, most had to laugh. KFC knew it was in hot water, and the humorous ad—coupled with a paragraph explaining the situation—helped.
No one expects to apologize to their customers. But when unexpected situations arise, apologies are necessary.
Read on to learn four key components of an effective apology—plus examples you can review for inspiration in a pinch.
Be An Empathetic Listener
When something goes wrong, customers will let you know. Whether you're dealing with one unhappy customer or a giant PR disaster, it's important to listen with empathy.
What does empathetic listening look like? Empathy is built on deeply felt understanding, coupled with warmth and support. In practice, this translates to elements such as:
- Asking for, and using, customers' names in conversation
- Taking note of specific details
- Using follow up questions to gather information
- Leaning on active listening techniques
- Using a calm, patient tone, even if the customer is angry
When disaster strikes, empathetic listening helps you avoid digging your company into a deeper hole. This can occur if customers feel you aren't being honest, or if you're brushing their concerns aside.
Best of all, you can foster a culture of empathetic listening before a problem ever occurs. Companies that are always receptive to feedback can get ahead of issues before they devolve into chaos. Plus, customers who trust your company are more likely to be patient if a problem does occur.
If a PR crisis erupts, the worst thing you can do is deny the issue. It won't help you save face, and may end up making customers even angrier. That's why taking responsibility is crucial.
After all, social media and online reviews make it easy for customers to swap notes about issues. Your customers are smart, and they won't let you get away with lame excuses.
When it's time to fess up, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Keep it simple by taking responsibility with a direct message such as:
- "We didn't foresee this issue."
- "We messed up."
- "We weren't prepared."
See how simple that is? It's hard to admit defeat in the moment, but customers will respect any company that owns up to its mistakes.
Explain What Happened
As part of your mea culpa, your company will need to explain what happened. A transparent explanation can provide peace of mind, quell customer inquiries and set the stage for repairing your image.
Across all industries and types of companies, common situations include:
- Flawed product designs
- Supply chain issues
- Problematic company policies drawing ire
- Price or rate hikes
- Safety or privacy issues
- Bad behavior by individual employees or representatives
Because these errors are so familiar, owning up to them can help an incident blow over more quickly.
If you skip this step, you'll open the door to wild speculation. Instead, your company should control the situation by offering a detailed explanation. Ultimately, explaining what happened will help you earn back your customers' trust.
There's one final ingredient to a good apology: Promising a solution. Along with listening and explaining, providing a path forward is a must.
Customers who feel angry or disappointed want to know that your business cares. Offering a solution that's proportional to the issue at hand is the best way to communicate that you value their business. (It will help you salvage your reputation, too.)
While your company will have to decide the best path forward, there are some tried and true solutions. Examples include:
- Replacements for recalled or flawed products
- Coupons or discounts for future purchases
- Vouchers for a future experience (such as a meal or hotel stay)
- Internal investigations
- Changes to your company policies
The exact solution you offer will depend on myriad factors, including what your company can afford to offer. The key is to choose a solution that will persuade customers to give you a second chance.
Of course, your solution might not satisfy every customer. Still, an imperfect solution is better than none at all. And most will appreciate your effort to make things right.
When In Doubt, Apologize
Every business owner hopes they'll never have to issue a public apology. But if something does go sideways, it pays to be prepared.
That's where tools like GoSite's Messenger come in. Whether you're issuing a coupon or an apology, a communications tool—plus an up-to-date contact hub—can help you send personalized messages, fast.
Want to learn more about communicating with customers? Check out Messenger today!