We’re Sorry.

Much has been written lately here in Canada about tainted processed meat products sold by Maple Leaf Foods that were responsible for 18 deaths all across the country.  One of the sidebar issues has been how well Michael McCain, that company’s president & CEO, has handled the crisis.

The standard formula when you have screwed up is supposed to be:

1. Admit you made a mistake.

2. Take responsibility for it.

3. Apologize for whatever inconvenience your error caused.

4. Explain what you will do to prevent it happening again.

Mr. McCain has done a good job on all these counts.  But it’s astonishing how many companies don’t (or maybe can’t).  Think how often you have called an organization out on some mistake it has made and the first reaction is, “it’s not my/our fault.”  This is unfortunately especially prevalent in the hospitality industry where poor service is one of my pet peeves.  If you mess up my food order, or give me the wrong kind of pillow, or put too much vermouth (i.e. more than one Higgs boson) in my Martini; and I complain, don’t ARGUE with me.  Make it right.

I got onto this kick because I made a mistake yesterday.  The first one since the late ’70s, I believe.  Well, really I didn’t.  A colleague has expected me to get approval from someone when I had understood I was simply to share the information with them.  When the approval didn’t happen she fired me a nastygram.  My response could easily have been, “No-one told me I was supposed to get approval!”  Just like the bartender can say, “No human can possibly call a drink with that little vermouth in it a Martini!”

But arguing won’t make either party feel better, so the right marketing  thing to do is follow the four steps above.  My response was (and I cut-and-paste):


Sorry, that was my fault – I did remember to send them to Angela, but did not explicitly request approval. I will from now on.        



And now everyone’s happy.


3 Responses to “We’re Sorry.”

  1. netdud Says:


    1) Express your sympathy for the other person taking offense or being inconvenienced, without making the connection between their discomfort and anything you did.

    “We are sorry that your experience was not what you expected”


    “We take our spelling very seriously hear…”

    3) Mention how many other people have had no problems with the same situation. Scientific statistics have proven that you can prove that something doesn’t happen by showing that other things DO happen. I said “scientific” and “statistics,” so there is no way that you can argue with that.

    Over 200 billion people have enjoyed our Poulet Tartare Bacon Sashimi deLux (TM) with little or no requirement for GI re-sectioning

    4) Suggest a solution which makes it obvious that you have not read or listened to the complaint.

    Have you tried sending a letter of complaint to us

    5) Suggest another product that is not the one the customer wanted. Provide a coupon.

    As you were not satisfied with the results of your laser vision correction, please accept our gift of this coupon for 20% off our Home Knife-Catching Game.

    6) Say you look forward to seeing the customer again.

    We look forward to seeing you again here at Final Peace Acres Farms Springs View Funeral Home.

    7) Warmest regards

    8) Someone signs on your behalf

  2. Stephen Brooks Says:

    Yeah – the basic, “Sorry you are too stupid to use our product properly” angle.

  3. netdud Says:

    I worked in a tech support department one time, and I heard a guy say pretty much that exact thing to a customer, except for the “sorry” bit.

    I believe the tech support guy may have had a different objective for the call than the customer did.

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