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How to Write an Apology (for Failure)

January 17, 2011

01.com logo imageOur corporate email service went down on Friday. No incoming or outgoing email from 9 am until about 7 pm. Our clients are all over North America and it was the beginning of a holiday weekend in the US.

01 Hosting is the company that hosts our Zimbra email backbone, and while it was extremely frustrating to not be able to send or receive email for a day, they did a lot of things right during the failure, and I thought there were some good lessons in this.

First things first – they communicated. A lot. When I couldn't get email on my desktop client, I went to log into my webmail client. I got a message that it could not verify my password and then I was taken to a status page that both explained the issue in basic terms and set my expectation about when the service would be back up.

01 Hosting was accurate as to service restoration and by 9 pm Friday night, I had all my email back – no messages lost in the downtime (they just weren’t delivered to me).

Then, Monday, I got a note of explanation. I would have preferred it to have said apology in the subject line, but the tone of the message was correct.

The third and fourth paragraphs read this way:

“We use the same system for email that you do, and can understand how important email is to business. As demonstrated by our 99.93% or greater up-time over the last two years, we work hard to prevent service interruptions of any kind.

We also understand that our past up-time, and even being greater than 99% for this month, may not feel like much consolation. If you're like most of our clients, the cost of downtime for you is much greater than the price of our services. When our service is functioning normally, this highlights our value. A very service-oriented team, we're in business to help, not hinder. We regret the inconvenience any interruptions cause you, your team, partners, clients and business. “

For those of us that wanted the more technical details of the failure, they provided that as well and then they went on to share the future upgrade plans.

All in all, a well-written note. It acknowledged the importance of problem. It explained what had happened, why it happened, and what was being done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And it provided the technical explanation for those that needed or wanted it. A flat-out “We’re sorry” would have made it stronger still, but it was a good note nonetheless.

So what about you? What vendor failure have you experienced and how did they handle it well (or poorly)? Drop us a comment.

Dan Kraus
Written by Dan Kraus

With more than two decades of experience in sales, marketing, and go-to-market strategies, Dan Kraus has developed a deep portfolio of experiences that he now uses to help small businesses profitably grow their businesses. As an entrepreneur, Dan understands the challenges of growing a business with limited capital and human resources. As a line of business manager in larger companies such as SAP America and Great Plains Software (now part of Microsoft), his experience launching new business ventures inside reputable organizations established his reputation as a creative and effective executive that could both plan and execute within corporate confines.

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