How to apologize – corporate edition

We’ve read a lot lately about the value of swift, full, and forthright apologies when public figures screw up. What about companies that screw up?

Blippy is a website that lets users trade updates about their consumer purchases. Recently, an obscure programming error, compounded by mistakes at Google and one small midwestern bank, allowed Google to index the credit card numbers of four or five Blippy customers, potentially exposing these numbers to people browsing the web. Co-founder & CEO Ashvin Kumar’s apology to users could serve as a model for companies that find themselves in a similar pickle. Moneyquote:

It has been a rocky weekend for Blippy. The weekend began with a front page article in the New York Times announcing our Series A financing. The elation didn’t last long. A few hours later, reports surfaced about the discovery of credit card numbers within Google’s cached search results. Our mood quickly went from elation to disbelief to disappointment. We are very sorry.

However, this is a very serious issue and simply apologizing is not enough. We’ve spent the last 48 hours working around the clock to dissect the issues, reach out to affected users, and put together a plan to ensure this never happens again.

There followed a detailed, plainspoken, 1000-word explanation of exactly what went wrong, and the steps Blippy and Google took to fix the problem. The explanation is admirably devoid of weasel words or any attempt at evading responsibility. It neither grovels nor glosses over. By treating customers with respect, it inspires reciprocal respect for the company at an awkward time.

Customers do not expect perfect products and perfect service. Their loyalty (or hostility) to a brand arises in large measure from the way a company responds to problems that inevitably arise. A willingness to listen to customers, an ethic of candor in dealings with them, and an honest determination to put things right—companies that get those three things right will enjoy excellent customer relations.