Sunday, June 8, 2008

In Search of "I'm Sorry"

I take a certain satisfaction in typing and mailing a strongly worded letter to a company who has done me wrong. I’ve written a half dozen or so—well, perhaps nearly a dozen—over the course of several years.

I do believe that corporate executives and managers desire to know when their product has let a customer down. Generally my letters have been to airlines relating to—no surprise here—horribly handled delays and baggage issues. Favorable results, in the form of ticket vouchers, have served to encourage my letter writing.

This past week has been one for the record books: two strongly worded letters typed and mailed in just a few days. The first was to a paint company. Seduced by “no VOC” claims I spent much more than I normally would on two gallons of paint. It did indeed live up to the no-fume claim. The problem? The two gallons—of the same color—dried in two completely different shades! As I wrote in my letter, “no matter what else a paint does or does not do, the bottom line is color. The customer must be able to trust the color.”

The second letter was to the corporate office of our local pharmacy. About half-way through the course a recent prescription, I realized the pills were almost gone. A closer inspection of the label told me they had included 80 pills when simple math multiplying the daily dosage and day supply would tell you that a total of 112 pills was called for.

When I went back to explain the error—and after much explanation they did give me the additional pills—the pharmacist handed the bottle over without so much as an apology.

I was shocked.

This was no small error. In fact, when it comes to prescription medicines I believe there is no such thing as a small error. With no acknowledgment of wrong on his part I realized I needed to say something. I let him know this wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a problem with a prescription at his pharmacy, and that I was certain that as the pharmacist he put a premium on accuracy. I asked if he would be addressing this matter with this staff or at least the person who filled this particular prescription.

He looked at me like a deer in headlights: he was unwilling or unable to take any responsibility for the error. Thus, I felt compelled to come home and draft that letter to his higher-ups.

Recently, there has been a great deal of press about Harvard Medical School and their new approach to medical errors. They are—get this—teaching their students to say sorry when they’ve made a medical mistake. Rather than increasing malpractice liability, studies have shown that taking responsibility and apologizing for error actually reduces lawsuits!

A simple apology; taking responsibility for an error—that’s what people are looking for when they feel they’ve been wronged. At their bottom line, that’s what my letters are about. As parents, isn’t responsibility a core value we’re trying to teach our children?

Why is it in seemingly such short supply?

Original post to DC Metro Moms.

When she’s not sending strongly worded letters to corporate executives, Aimee blogs about her life at Smiling Mama.


jodifur said...
There is an epidemic of bad customer service in this country. I think I blog about once a week. It's crazy!

feener said...
i have always said, sometimes if the person just acted like they wanted to help you and were sorry i would be less upset. doesn't seem so hard huh ?

Sue @ My Party of 6 said...
We once gave our daughter the wrong medication for six days because of a pharmacy error. The pharmacist seemed unconcerned and a letter to the district manager produced only a $20 coupon for our next prescription. Uh... no. We never went back again. It's unbelieveable.

MeLoveBreakfast said...
You are preaching to the choir, sister. If only people (and companies) would own up to their mistakes I think it would make for a better society. I'm guessing you are talking about CVS...they are the worst!

Leanne said...
On my last job appraisal, they actually mentioned that when I had made a mistake I owed up to it and aplogized. They said how impressed they were. Um? Weird. Basic courtesy I think.

Stimey said...
One pharmacy sent me home with someone else's prescription. I didn't notice until I was at home. But thank God I did. I haven't been back there.

Meg said...
Ditto what Leanne said. I'm all about the apology - it's my secret weapon. I feel it's almost always better to fall on the sword, even if something isn't entirely your fault. That's always so much better received than a defensive reply, trying to place responsibility on someone else.

Victoria Mason said...
I'm not even going to go in to the silent CVS in my 'hood. The pharmacy speaks not a word. It's almost scary.

J. Fergie said...
Hubby and I are totally big fans of writing letters to companies. If they don't know a problem exists, how can they fix it? My best "victory" was complaining about our neighborhood grovery store. It might have been a coincidence, but months after I sent in my detailed letter to the corporate hq, the store underwent a complete renovation. Maybe it wasn't entirely only my doing, but maybe my letter was #100 and that was the one that made the difference.

Go girl!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

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