Today I got an email from Netflix and boy was it a surprise. If you’ll recall, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings put himself and the company in a huge debacle over some less than forthright practices. Unbeknownst to millions of customers, Netflix underhandedly passed off a new bill with separate charges for it’s delivery dvd service which had originally been apart of a monthly package. Needless to say people weren’t too thrilled with the surprise billing statement. I’m sure Netflix customer service reps received mp shortage of calls for that entire month following the new bill.
I’ve pasted parts of the email apology for you to read over because I think this is a great time to discuss damage control. I really enjoyed reading Reed Hasting’s letter and I find it to be a great case study for a properly constructed online business apology letter. He definitely had some professional help with this and I decided to break down the strengths of his apology letter.
1. Keep It Personal
Reed starts his letter addressing the person it is sent to and not to “Netflix Customers” or some other all encompassing group name. This letter is personable because Reed understands that his business has hurt individuals not a nation of customers.
I messed up. I owe you an explanation.
It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.
2. Address the Problem and Take Responsibility Where It is Due
Reed goes on to simply state the problem we all know about without dwelling on it too much. He goes in detail about the company’s reasoning and how much the decision, although a bit faulty, was made with the customer in mind.
"For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us). So we moved quickly into streaming, but I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do."
3. Remind them of Why They Love You
If your apology letter only contains a bunch of boo-hoo “I’m sorry’s” you will only remind your customers of how upset they were about their service to begin with. You have to remind them of why they became a customer in the first place. Trust me, in times like these customers want to know why they should remain a customer.
"Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. DVD is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection of movies.
I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolves, without maintaining compatibility with our DVD by mail service.”
4. Introduce A New Solution
What I like about Reed’s letter is that it’s solution comes in the form of almost a new product or feature. He let’s his customers know that the change will come with a gift.
"So here is what we are doing and why…..
One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow.”
5. Put Your Business Apology in a Blog or Vlog & Allow Comments
This is just really going the extra mile. Sending one letter personally via email and another in open public form allows you to get feedback via comments about how the letter was received. It also allows the media *ahem* to link back to you. Reed’s video is just the icing to the cake. While I don’t think this was necessary for his relatively small mistake, a bigger boo-boo by a larger company might need to get in front of the camera. Seeing the CEO’s face when apologizing shows great humility and earnestness.
-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix
p.s. I have a slightly longer explanation along with a video posted on our blog, where you can also post comments.”
Even though you may not think you have big budgets like Netflix to invest in maintaining your online business reputation, you have to keep in mind that the online ad space is one of the few places in which all businesses are equal.
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