JCPenney WOWs Customer with Empathic, Heartfelt Email Response

A few years ago one of my clients sent me a copy of an email she’d received from JCPenney Portrait Studio. My client, Angela, had taken her 2-month old daughter to the studio to have her very first professional photo taken. Though Angela had an appointment, she, her husband and infant daughter waited for more than 45 minutes past their appointment time.

As you can imagine, 45 minutes of waiting with a 2-month old is challenging. Angela said that by the time they got in the studio for photos, her daughter was tired, cranky and hungry. Because of her daughter’s understandable disposition, they just couldn’t get a quality photo of the precious baby girl. Angela went home and emailed JCPenney to express her disappointment. Forty-eight hours later Angela received what she described as “The best customer service email I have ever received.”

Here’s an excerpt from the original email Angela received:

“As a mother of three children, I can certainly understand the frustration and disappointment you had with having to wait so long and then not having the quality sitting you are entitled to.”


That WOWed me too. This representative related to Angela and responded with sincere empathy. That really resonated with Angela.

Take a look at how the representative offered a recovery and apology:

“You will be receiving a letter for four free sheets of portraits at a future sitting as a way of apology. I realize that this does not make up for the time and effort already spent with all of this but I do hope that it does in some way show how truly regretful I am.”


Don’t you just love that last sentence? “I realize that this does not make up for the time and effort already spent with all of this but I do hope that it does in some way show how truly regretful I am.” The representative is offering a personal, heartfelt apology.

Click image to read entire email response from JCPenney


The bottom line: When you are responding to customer complaint emails, take the time to express sincere empathy by relating to the customer and responding based on this empathic relation. Also be sure to always offer a heartfelt apology. When you do, you will not only solve the problem the customer experienced, but you will restore their confidence and regain goodwill.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.

Excellent Problem Response Letter From American Airlines

Watch my full customer recovery video to get 5 steps for restoring customer confidence after service failures.

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.

Guy Kawasaki on social media and customer service

Imagine an angry consumer blasts your brand on Twitter, YouTube and on blogs, and she has so much influence that the Tweets become a trending topic and the YouTube video goes viral.

Are you 100% confident you can handle it?

If not, I have the perfect program for you. Simply click this link to see what it’s all about. 

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Corporate Social Media Crisis: 4 Ways to Fight Back

You have to be in social media to use social media for customer service

Identify Customer’s Needs by Asking “What does a man in the desert need?”

New Mexico Jeep Tours White Mesa

What does a man in the desert need most?


In my onsite classroom customer service training sessions, I ask my participants to imagine they’ve come across a man stranded in the desert. “What do you think the man in the desert needs most?” I ask. The immediate answer from the entire group is always water.

I then explain to the company I’m training that meeting customer’s needs will get them to “average” customer service at best. To go above and beyond, companies have to do more than meet the most obvious or most essential customer needs.

Going back to the man in the desert analogy, I ask, “What else might the man in the desert need?” In the workshop I delivered last week in Baltimore, here are the responses I got:

  • Food
  • Sunscreen
  • A ride out of the desert
  • A cell phone so he can call his family
  • Sunglasses
  • Shade
  • Someone to talk to
  • A camel

They were absolutely on track. Beyond the obvious water, we can think of several other things a man in the desert might need.

Just the same, when serving customers, we need to not only answer their questions and meet their expressed needs, we need to work proactively to identify and meet unexpressed needs. We can create a more valuable and memorable experience for customers by thinking about what else they might need.

The “Man in the Desert” analogy in action

Recently I had trouble checking my checking account balance online, so I called my bank. I started the conversation with, “I usually look at my account online, but I couldn’t get into my account today. Can you give me my balance and last five transactions?”

The representative on the other end of the phone was polite and quickly gave me the requested information. He gave me the “water.”

Before hanging up, he said, “You mentioned you couldn’t get online to check your account. If you have a second, I can reset your password, and we can test it out right now.”

That was the extra…The food, the camel, the shade, the sunglasses, etc.  I was impressed. So often, representatives are eager to disconnect after giving the water. But this gentleman delivered a great experience by taking the time to identify a need that wasn’t directly expressed…and by meeting that need.

Use this “Man in the Desert” analogy in a short training session with your employees to inspire them to not only meet your customer’s expressed needs but to look for ways to identify and respond to their unexpressed needs.

When your employees use the Man in the Desert approach, they will consistently surprise and delight your customers and ultimately, increase customer loyalty.

Now you can get even more tips for the telephone call flow! Sign up for my free on-demand webinar and learn 4 ways to establish rapport with callers, discover Disney’s “3 o-clock Parade” strategy and see what Gumby can teach you about the telephone customer experience. Watch this 60-minute video now or share it with your employees.

Make “WOW” a Part of Your Culture (Whoa, Nellie! Have We Got A Surprise For You!)

Last summer I ordered a pair of running shoes from Shipping is always on the house at Zappos when you go with standard shipping. That’s a big WOW for me and it’s one of the reasons I frequently order shoes for me and my family from Zappos. A couple of hours after I ordered my running shoes, I got the following email:

Whoa, Nellie! Have We Got A Surprise For You!

Hello Myra!

Although you originally ordered Standard Shipping, we’re upgrading the shipping time frame for your order. It will ship out today, so you’ll get it even faster than we originally promised! It’s kind of like we waved our magic wand!

Please note that this is being done at no additional cost to you. It’s our way of saying thanks for being our customer.

We hope this has brightened your day a little! Thanks for shopping at!

With Love,
The Zappos Customer Loyalty Team

Whoa, Nellie! is right. That email made my day. And at 10:16am the next morning, I went for a run in my new running shoes.

 Zappos is all about customer service. The company’s toll-free number is prominently displayed on every single web page. Live people answer their phones…24 hours a day. All products come with a 365-day return policy. (You read that right.) The company regularly invests in surprise and delight to keep customers like me smiling when we get such perks as overnight shipping for free.

Take a look at this video that I show in my customer service workshops. It’s a behind–the-scenes look at what WOW means to Zappos’ employees. After you watch the video, think about how you might put WOW into your organization.


Learn how to create a culture for WOWing your customers…check out our customer service onsite training and customer service elearning.

4 Tips for WOWing Customers Who Experience Problems

Seven years ago I had a new oven delivered to my home. The Sears deliveryman quickly pointed out that there was a small dent on the right side of the oven. The dent did not affect the performance of the oven and would not have been seen because the adjacent cabinets would have camouflaged it. It truly was no issue at all to me. But the Sears delivery guy quickly got a Specialist on the line and then handed me his cellular phone.


Mrs. Golden, I understand there is a dent in your new oven and we are so sorry about that. We can exchange the oven or we can offer a discount that you think is fair.” I explained that I didn’t need a replacement so she asked me to come up with a figure that I thought was fair. I threw out a reasonable figure and immediately the discount was honored. Both the deliveryman and the Specialist were courteous, sincerely apologetic, and clearly empowered. Their quick recovery WOWed me and believe me, that’s not easy to do.

This week I will share with you Four Easy Things You Can Do to WOW Customers in Problem Situations based on my Beyond WOW experience with Sears.

1. Proactively point out problems before the customer discovers the mistake. (when possible). The deliveryman didn’t wait for me to discover the dent and he didn’t try to cover it up. Proactively pointing out problems creates trust between the employee and the customer and puts you on the path to an amicable discussion about how to resolve the problem.

2. Respond with a sense of urgency. Immediately after pointing out the dent in my oven, the deliveryman pulled out his cellular phone and called the office. He could have simply given me a 1-800 number and told me to follow up. His immediate attempt to resolve the problem created calm and peace of mind.

3. Apologize, even when you’re not personally at fault. I know of no better way to diffuse anger than to offer a sincere and unreserved apology. Always apologize, regardless of fault or personal responsibility. You can simply say, “I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

4. Offer options. The Sears Specialist quickly offered me two choices: replacement or a “fair” discount. Giving customers choices makes them feel empowered and in control and when customers feel in control they are less difficult to deal with.

Proactively address problems and you will create calm and resolve the problem quicker and in most cases, for less money.

Everything You Need for a Total Complaint Handling Training 
(Do-it-yourself Training)

Get your training materials now and equip your employees to deal with difficult customers with diplomacy and tact, say “no” without causing resentment, respond to negotiation ploys, and resolve problems without giving away the store. View details.