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May 3rd, 2016

A little humility goes a LONG way in public relations.

I want you to think of this situation:

You open your electricity bill, expecting your average, $150 bill for the month. To your shock and dismay, your bill says you owe $3,500 and it must be paid within 30 days or they will shut off your power.

Right away, you call your utility company to inform them of their obvious mistake, only to be told "Our billing systems do not make mistakes - You will have to pay in full or we will discontinue service"

You start to panic a little - For the vast, vast majority of people, a sudden, unexpected $3,500 expense is a huge hit on the family finances. You post to Facebook; You research consumer advocacy groups. You escalate your complaint to the utility company and the ombudsman that oversees it - Still: Pay or we turn off your power.

With a week left to go, you decide that lights and refrigerated food are more important than a principled stand, so you decide to bite the bullet while holding your nose and shutting your eyes, when suddenly, you are told by the utility company "We found an error: Your bill is $150."

Now: Obviously, your relief is palpable, but my question is more about the aftermath and the impression you have of the company: They, obviously, are more than aware that this issue has gone viral and many, many thousands of people are aware of the billing issue.

Ask yourself this: Which statement would make you feel better about the company, if they posted it either as an (e)mail to you, or directly in response to your social media outcry:

"We, at {power company} cannot comment on individual customer issues. We do our best to provide the highest quality of services to customers at fair market rates, which includes a government regulated dispute resolution service"


"We at {power company} can not possibly be more honest about this situation other than: "We screwed up" - We are sincerely sorry for {your name}'s worry and trouble that you went through, especially because it was entirely our mistake. We are using your situation as a learning tool to avoid putting other consumers what you went through. Again, {your name} we are really sorry you went through this and will do our very best to make sure it does not happen again"

Sure; One is corporate speak and makes the lawyers happy. The lawyers, though, do not pay the bills. (They create them) - The other, recognizes the angst a customer was put through, admits the company is human and makes mistakes and attempts to empathize by, at the very least, offering an apology for what was clearly a wrong - even though it ended up being an honest mistake (Be it a software glitch, a data entry error - whatever it may be: Companies are staffed with human beings and mistakes happen.)

So: Think about the example, above, the next time you are dealing with a customer who is telling you that your company has made a mistake: Put yourself in their position: What would make you feel better, even after the mistake is realized and corrected ?

Sometimes, what we would like to happen to us, in the case of mistakes happening to us is not always what we make happen to our customers, when it is us making the mistakes that affects them.

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