How Southwest Airlines Rebuilds Trust After Service Failures

Explaining Why/How a Problem Happened Helps Companies Regain Goodwill and Rebuild Trust

A vital, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem happened. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust.

 Explaining to customers what might have caused the service failure may (also) enhance customer satisfaction.  Similarly, in the service recovery context, open communication may alleviate customers’ bad feelings about the service failure

 Hui Liao

Providing an explanation can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for taking the time to let us know about _____. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.  Here’s what we think may have happened…”

In my “Before You Hit Send” email webinar, I teach people to carefully acknowledge and explain the issue via email immediately after apologizing. The placement and wording of the justification is critical. Here’s the example justification from Southwest Airlines I will share in Friday’s webinar. This is a portion of a full recovery letter. The paragraph shown here is a very good justification of the problem and it comes immediately after an apology.

“Shortly after takeoff, the Pilots received a low pressure indication for one of the two independent hydraulic systems (A&B) on the aircraft. In response to this situation the Captain returned to have the aircraft inspected. In this case, the problem was with the A hydraulic System – there was a fluid leak. After speaking with our Maintenance Department, I learned that the supply line which helps operate one of the movable panels on the aircraft’s wing surface was leaking hydraulic fluid, and as such, the corresponding line was then replaced to fix the problem.”

 Click on image to read the entire Southwest letter

The goal of complaint handling is to completely restore customer confidence and regain goodwill. A critical element of restoring customer confidence is to offer a justification for why/how the problem happened. Make sure your employees carefully offer a justification to your customers after service failures and you’ll begin to rebuild customer trust and regain customer goodwill.

For help with complaint handling over email, consider my Before You Hit Send webinar. We’re broadcasting live Friday, March 11th at 1pm ET. The recording will be available for those who can’t attend the live event.

How to Be a Fantastic Chat Agent

I recently chatted with a QVC Customer Service Representative about the status of a product return. I only wanted to confirm that my return was received, but I walked away from the chat session with a Beyond WOW reaction. The WOW started with this message from the Representative:

 “Ms. Golden, I’m so sorry the Canon Vixia HV30 MiniDV HD Camcorder hasn’t been processed as of yet.  I know you’re anxious to have this completed.  The return processing time can take up to 17 days from the date an order is returned to QVC.  I hope your item is processed soon.”

QVC ChatFour important things happened here. And when you do these four things in your chat interactions, you will deliver a fantastic chat experience.

Continue reading “How to Be a Fantastic Chat Agent”

Before You Hit Send!

Before You Hit Send!

3 Rules to Protect Your Company from Broken Relationships and Lawsuits

Email was created to make our lives easier, but bad things happen over email every day. Conflict, broken peer relationships, and lawsuits are now regular occurrences as a direct result of improper email usage. Over 90% of business communication is email based, yet studies show that less than 10% of companies provide training to help their employees use email properly.

In a landmark case, an oil giant paid $2.2 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit over its email content. The suit alleged that the company allowed its internal email system to be used to transmit sexually offensive messages, including a “joke” sheet titled “25 reasons why beer is better than women.”

Training on email usage can dramatically reduce an organization’s risks associated with improper email usage.

Before your employees send another email, they need to know these 4 things:

1. Inform Employees of Legal Risks of Email

Don’t give employees email access until they know the legal risks of email. Email is a business communication tool and your employees are obliged to use this tool in a responsible, effective and lawful manner. Your employees need to know that if they send or forward emails with any libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks, they and the company can be held liable. They must also be informed that unlawfully forwarding or copying messages without permission is illegal and they and the company can be held liable for copyright infringement.  The legal risks of email usuage need to be included in the company’s email policy and employees should sign a declaration stating they have read and understand the policy.

2. Don’t Use Email to Give Bad News

Email communication should be used to exchange information, answer questions, and generate action. It is not appropriate to use email to deliver bad news of any kind. Recipients cannot discern the sender’s emotion and true intent over email and as a result, miscommunication and emotional responses may result. When you have to deliver bad news, opt for a face-to-face or telephone meeting.

3. Don’t Fan the Flame

While you may or may not have heard the term “Flaming,” you very likely know what it is. Flaming is the misinterpretation of the content of an email message that results in a verbal attack over email. Basically, it’s childish bickering in the workplace. Flaming happens every day in corporations and it results in broken peer relationships. Not only is the act of flaming irresponsible and dangerous, but the impulsive email responses can be forwarded or printed out and attract a level of importance and attention that was never intended. So how do you deal with flaming? Resist the temptation to “fire” off a response, re-read the person’s email, take a break before responding, or just pick up the phone to handle the situation.

Email can be great tool that saves time and gets things done. Or, it can lead to lawsuits and broken relationships. Establish rules and educate employees on the rules, especially the legal implications, and email will bless you rather than curse you.

Before You Hit Send Webinar

How to write business-friendly emails that create emotional connections with customers and leave customers saying “WOW!”

View outline/purchase

 Sources cited:

 “You’ve Got Email and a Lawsuit on Your Hands”:

 “Sample Email Policy”:

Before You Send That Next Email…read this.

***Live webinar***

Before You Hit Send: How to write business-friendly emails that create emotional connections with customers and leave customers saying “WOW!”

Friday, September 17, 2010 1:00pm – 3:00pm ET

Find out how to amaze customers, your boss, and most of all, YOURSELF by crafting emails that are personalized, use emotion to connect with customers and leave customers saying “WOW!”

I promise, after attending BEFORE YOU HIT SEND!, you will be inspired and thrilled with how quickly you can craft an email that answers ALL of your customer’s questions and engages the customer through personalization. And once you’ve gotten a taste of how it feels to constantly WOW your customers and IMPRESS your supervisors by creating warm experiences and delivering solid customer service over email, you will be completely STOKED!

Creating memorable emails using the BEFORE YOU HIT SEND! method is CLEAR, CONCISE, and geared to give you QUICK RESULTS that will keep you engaged and excited about your new e-service skills.

Get the full story here.




SMH (scratching my head)

I just got an email complaint from a customer who attended my Before You Hit Send webinar. The webinar discusses why so many companies blow it with customer email and how my viewers can do better.  A big section of the program is “7 Grammar Gaffes that Make You Look Dumb.” My “complainant” said that everything I taught in the webinar, she learned before she was 8 years old. Funny, as the first sentence of her email had the #1 grammar gaffe that we discussed….typing “YOUR” when you really mean “You’re.” Perhaps she didn’t pay enough attention in grammar school.

Being the professional that I am, I immediately replied to the customer’s email with an apology. “I’m sorry my webinar didn’t meet your expectations…” But what I really wanted to convey was how to avoid the very common YOUR vs. You’re grammar gaffe.  I didn’t have the heart to school the customer via email, but I do want to help protect you from this grammar gaffe that really does make people and their companies look dumb – to be frank.

All it takes to avoid the “Your vs You’re” error is to take a second and think about what you’re trying to say.

Your” is a possessive pronoun, as in “your car” or “your blog.”

“You’re” is a contraction for “you are,” as in “you’re  going to be so much more effective at writing emails because you attended this webinar.

I hope this helps someone. Maybe my complainant will find this post and learn a little something that she didn’t learn before she turned 8 years old.  🙂


Before You Hit Send: How to Write Business-Friendly Emails That Create Emotional Connections and Leave Customers Saying WOW!

Every email your employees send out has your company’s brand in the signature line and it puts your corporate reputation on the line. A great email can completely restore customer confidence in your brand and regain goodwill. But, at the fingertips of a disgruntled customer, your emails can be plastered all over the Internet by way of a powerful blog. In Before You Hit Send, Myra shows your people, step by step, how to craft customized, friendly emails that answer customers’ questions and leave customers with a WOW reaction. View full course outline

How Should You Handle a Customer Complaint Over Email? Here Are 7 Tips To Get You Started.

Man with afro hairstyle working at his desk

 “Hi Myra. What advice can you share about best practices for responding to a customer’s complaint over email?”


Myra’s Answer

Hi Albert. Every email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature lineit puts your corporate reputation on the line, and at the fingertips of a disgruntled customer, your emails can be plastered all over the Internet by way of a powerful blog.

Nearly half of all routine customer service questions emailed are not answered adequately. Companies are addressing only a portion of customers’ questions or the answers they give leave customers thinking a robot must have read the email.

Another big problem with consumer email response is many emails are just plain sloppy. They are filled with mistakes that make companies look unprofessional. Most people don’t review or edit their emails – they just hit “send”- and when they do, they are putting an entire brand’s credibility on the line.

Email customer service is supposed to give customers quicker answers and solutions while allowing companies to slash operations costs. When email threads go back and forth unnecessarily because questions aren’t answered, operations costs exceed the cost of telephone interactions. And sloppy emails rob companies of credibility.

So you need to carefully craft and proof your emails. How do you do it? Here are 7 basic steps for you.

Step One- Read the customer’s email in its entirety 

Forty-six percent of consumers opening emails from companies are frustrated to discover that their question(s) was not answered. This often happens because employees stop at the first problem described in the email and they, at best, skim the rest of the email. Read the entire email before typing anything.

An excellent way to ensure you respond to every question in the customer’s email is to copy the customer’s email and paste it into your reply back. After pasting the customer’s content into your reply, go paragraph by paragraph through the customer’s email and type your response after each of the customer’s paragraphs. You are, in essence, taking the customer’s email and breaking it into little workable chunks and easily addressing every single issue. (After addressing the customer’s questions completely, you, of course, delete the pasted paragraphs.)

Tip – I often copy exact words and phrases that the customer uses in her initial email and paste it into my reply. This allows me to “mirror” the customer’s language and it shows that I truly did read the customer’s email.

Step Two- Open your email with “Thank you.” 

A lot of companies begin complaint response emails with: “We have received your email dated…” Don’t do this. The fact that you’re responding to the email is irrefutable proof that you have received the customer’s email. Instead of wasting words, immediately go into a response designed to restore the customer’s confidence and regain their goodwill.

My favorite approach to beginning a complaint letter is to begin by expressing appreciation for the feedback. Here are some ways to express appreciation for customer feedback:

“Thank you for taking the time to write to us.”

“Thank you for your email. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”

“Thank you so much for taking the time to write to us. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify what we think has happened.” (This is ideal for a response email to a customer who is actually responsible for the error or when you cannot honor the customer’s request for a refund or exchange.)

Step Three – Apologize 

Most company replies to emails that describe problems do not include an apology. To not apologize to a customer who has experienced a problem is to miss an opportunity.  Making an apology to customers after things go wrong is positively related to satisfaction with the company’s “recovery.”  When your employees apologize to customers, they convey politeness, courtesy, concern, effort, and empathy.

Let me let you in on a little secret: an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault. And it’s not even about placing blame. The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill.

I believe in apologizing to the customer whether the problem they experienced was a result of an act of nature, a third party, or even the customer. It goes without saying that I believe that we must apologize when the problem is the fault of the company.

Here’s how you can apologize when the problem is not the company’s fault:

  •  “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.” 
  • “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.” 
  • “I’m sorry. I feel awful about your problem.” 

Step Four –Explain why or how the problem happened 

A vital, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem happened. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust.

In an article titled, Manage Complaints to Enhance Loyalty, John Goodman says, “In many case, a clear, believable explanation as to why the policy or performance is reasonable will at least mollify the customer and, in some case, satisfy him or her.”

Providing an explanation can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for taking the time to let us know about _____. We appreciate customers who let us know when things aren’t right.”

Customers will always appreciate you taking the time to explain why the problem occurred and again, this gesture on your part helps to reestablish trust.

Step Five- Offer compensation if applicable 

When the problem is clearly the fault of the company, recompense (in the form of discounts, free merchandise, refunds, gift cards, coupons, and product samples) will help you restore customer confidence and regain goodwill. Our research has found that 58% of complaining consumers who received something in the mail following their contact with the company were delighted, versus only 40% of those who did not receive anything.

Don’t hold back when it comes to compensating customers after a service failure. Your reward will be increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and powerfully persuasive positive word-of-mouth advertising.

Bonus Step – Surprise & Delight 

This step is optional, but I highly recommend it. Surprise and Delight is all about inspiring a feeling of astonishment through unexpectedness.

One of my clients in the beauty industry is maximizing surprise & delight by creatively using gift cards in a way that is generating profits. They used to compensate customers dollar-for-dollar; a $3 overcharge was resolved with a $3 check. Makes sense doesn’t it? Well, now they give a $10 gift card for a $3 overcharge. The customer is WOW’d. But not only is the customer WOW’d and telling her girlfriends about the unexpected gift card, but the company is enjoying a redemption rate of 67% with customers spending 2x the gift card amount in the store.

Try a little surprise & delight and you’ll get your customers talking and, if you design it right, you’ll also enjoy growth as a direct result of the WOW factor.

Step Six – Proof your email! 

Grammar gaffes make your company look bad. You and I both know spell check (and even grammar check) won’t catch everything. You are going to have to invest a little time to read and re-read every line of your emails to make sure they look and read professional. Here are some hard and fast email proofing tips:

  • Point with your finger and read one word at a time. Yes, this will take some time, but you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you capture this way.
  • Read your email aloud and silently.
  • Proof for only one type of mistake at a time. Do one read through just for punctuation, another for word usage, and another for accuracy of your message.
  • Print your email out and read it.
  • Start at the final paragraph of your email and read it backwards.

Step Seven- Respond as quickly as reasonably possible 

The average company takes 2 days (46 hours) to respond to a customer’s email. This is not okay with customers. You need to shoot for responding to emails within 2-4 hours. Is this easy? No, but you need to align your processes and manpower to make it happen.

And here’s why: A speedy response will improve your corporate credibility with consumers and it boosts customer satisfaction. Research shows the longer it takes for companies to respond to email complaints, the greater the customer’s perception that they have been treated unfairly.

Every email that goes out from your customer service team has your company’s brand in the signature line, it puts your reputation on the line, and it forms a binding document between you and the customer. Make sure your message is professional, actively works to regain customer goodwill, and is free of embarrassing gaffes. Follow these simple seven steps and your emails will bless you, rather than curse you.

How to instantly make emails more personable

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