Sizing up the sincerity of corporate apologies

Jason Landman’s stateroom on the Carnival Miracle vibrated from the moment his ship cast off in Long Beach, Calif., until it docked seven days later. “It shook and rattled literally from start to finish of the cruise,” he says.
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3 keys to a successful consumer apology

Docstocmedia/Shutterstock
Docstocmedia/Shutterstock
It’s almost impossible to turn on the TV news or click on your favorite news site without seeing another company apologizing to its customers. There’s Target, saying it’s sorry for the latest data breach. There’s OfficeMax, regretting a flier it sent.

But what about the other way? Do you ever see customers apologizing to a company?

Well, we should, and when it happens, it ought to make the news. In my line of work, I see a lot of consumers behaving badly or publicly accusing a business of something it didn’t do.

I’m no corporate apologist, but it seems to me that in the interest of fairness, those companies — if not their employees — deserve the same courtesy that we ask of them.
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Why you shouldn’t accept your airline’s apology

Potowizard/Shutterstock
Potowizard/Shutterstock
If you’ve experienced a recent flight delay or service disruption, then you probably know that for better or worse, no one says “I’m sorry” like an airline.

A well-crafted apology is often just the beginning. Gift cards, credits and loyalty points — lots of loyalty points — frequently follow. And the mea culpas appear to work. Most passengers accept them and move on.

Well, maybe they shouldn’t.

A closer look at the airline industry’s “sorries” suggests they sometimes lack sincerity and show a remarkable unwillingness to fix the problem that caused the complaint in the first place. In other words, it’s more like hush money than an apology.
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10,780 apologies

mtkang/Shutterstock
mtkang/Shutterstock
10,780.

That’s how many emails you’ve sent me since Jan. 1. It’s 2.4 GB worth of feedback, problems, story tips and criticisms I didn’t see — until today.

Thanks to a mail server glitch, any messages sent to [email protected] were deposited into a queue, where they remained, unread and unanswered. (I use another address, [email protected], which experienced no outages.)

How did it happen? It’s really hard to say. My webmaster has assured me that all the emails were being forwarded to my primary address, and had received a verification from his Google Apps account. Apparently “verified” doesn’t actually mean verified to Google.

(For those of you who are wondering if anyone warned me my email wasn’t working, they did. Repeatedly. But for some reason, Google always forwarded my own test emails to me without a problem, leading me to believe the problem was on the other end. Thanks, Google!)

Over the next few days, I’ll be responding to each email, offering my personal apology and asking if there’s anything I can do to help. I’ll assure them that I wasn’t ignoring them.

Not to belabor the point, but I read every email I receive. I respond to all of them.

For future reference, I have a form on my site that always gets to me. If for some reason I don’t respond to an email, use the form or call me directly at (202) 370-7934.

I’m sorry for the breakdown. It won’t happen again.

If you love the TSA, read this story

It happened again.

At a time when the federal agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems can least afford it, there was another dust-up involving a young passenger — this time to Lucy Forck, a three-year-old with spina bifida flying to Disney World with her family.

When the little girl in a wheelchair is pulled over for a pat-down, her mother starts taping the procedure on her phone, which is permitted.
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Nothing says “I’m sorry” like airline miles

Not something special in the air. / Photo by Simon Sees - Flickr
Question: My family of four flew from Chicago to Salt Lake City on American Airlines during spring break. About a half-hour into our outbound flight, we were told that the landing gear did not come up and that we had to return to O’Hare.
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United Airlines promised me two first class tickets — where are they?

Dude, where are my first-class tickets? / Photo - Tipek US Air
In the customer service world, a first-class, roundtrip ticket anywhere the airline flies is the ultimate mea culpa — an airline’s way of saying, “We’re really sorry.”

And United Airlines promised Charles Rosenthal and his girlfriend two of them after canceling their flight from Palm Springs, Calif., to Los Angeles recently. But the tickets never arrived, and my inquiries to United have had disappointing results. Do I need to push harder, or let this one go?
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Madame Ambassador, the TSA will apologize for your “humiliating” pat-down — in 2011

Well, it’s about time.

The Transportation Security Administration today publicly apologized to the woman detained a year ago in this video because she didn’t want her breast milk X-rayed. Here’s the full text.

TSA investigated the matter and sent a letter of apology to the passenger in March, according to the agency. The passenger has flown since these events occurred and “no longer experiences issues” — perhaps because her baby stopped nursing.

It added,

We extend our sincere apologies to any passenger who may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience during the screening process. We appreciate hearing from passengers and encourage you to share your experiences with us.

We acknowledge this particular passenger experienced an out of the ordinary delay, and have worked with our officers to ensure we proceed with expediency in screening situations similar to this.

I only mention this oblique and long-overdue public apology because we are left to wonder how long it will take TSA to apologize for violating its own rules and patting down a foreign diplomat in Jackson, Miss., earlier this week.
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Can this trip be saved? There was a meeting in the ladies room

Mark Gross was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Specifically, it was a room at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel in Tampa that no man should ever enter. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

The question we’re presented with this morning is the following one: What does a hotel owe a guest when there’s an honest misunderstanding that leads to profound embarrassment? Is an apology enough?
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