Over the past 15 years, if there is one question I keep getting asked, it's “how to handle a customer complaint?". There are regular complaints, and there are a few ones, which end up becoming a public scandal damaging to the brand image and reputation when it hits a level of virality. No one wants this, but we need to be prepared for it. This is a brand in crisis: do we respond with panic, or have we proactively put a system in place?
Even established brands do get hit by scandals, but in a week’s time, it’s old news. However, for smaller businesses, it could mean the death of a brand. What should you do when this happens to your company, and there is a need to release a public statement or apology? Who must take charge? There is an art and science to handling this the right way that can build more trust in the brand. How you handle situations such as scandals is a reflection of your leadership, your brand and company values.
Welcome to your complete guide to writing a public apology.
1. Response turnaround time is everything. A statement from the company within 24 hours is ideal. The minute someone reads the viral post, and as more comments begin to build up, treat it as a ticking time bomb for your brand’s reputation. The faster you can get your official statement published, you get to manage and control the narrative. The public is eagerly waiting to hear from the company, but this does not mean you rush the process. No one in the company must respond to any of the comments in defense or in agreement in a reactive manner, as it can only make things worse. There must only be one official voice and statement from the company. Only one official and designated member of the management team will click that “post” button.
2. The lawyer must never write the final draft. You can tell when it is the legal department who wrote the statement. It sounds calculated, and protective of one side. In short, it’s safe. However, it can also sound cold and defensive. Issues the public feels invested in, cannot be handled without emotion. It has to be inclusive, empathetic and thoughtful. Make your lawyer write the first draft, then your experienced Marketing Head edits it, and ultimately the CEO or the Business Owner reviews it for the final time.
3. It is a public apology even if you call it a “public statement”. Public scandals fail loyal customers. They fail its employees working for the company, and they fail the brand. This is the context of your apology. Your legal department will warn you on the choice of words, as it may admit fault, inviting a lawsuit. This is why you need to be careful and deliberate without losing the humanity of a sincere apology.
This is my tried-and-tested anatomy of an apology letter after having written many customer service responses for brands and companies we have worked with at satisFIND over the years:
Mandatories are placing your official brand logo on top and affixing the signature of the highest-ranking officer at the end.
I sincerely wish that you will never have the need for this guide, but if your business involves delighting customers daily, then it’s time to start preparing your team for the worst-case scenario.
Founder and Trust Experience Researcher at satisFIND