Taking responsibility

One of the best ways to enrage a customer is to duck responsibility.

Airlines do it, accountants do it, lawyers do it. Doctors, too. Frontline service workers are always in the awkward position of having to deal with angry customers about something that’s not their fault.

Often, the very act of evasion is what the customer is angry about. All we want is someone to look us in the eye and take responsibility.

Here’s a note someone sent, enraged about a Valentine’s Day order gone wrong:

Here is an email that I received when I came home on Tuesday Feb 14th.  It
is from a company named Shari’s Berries.  I saw their product on Good
Morning America last week and decided to order some chocolate covered
strawberries for a gift.  Their web-site guaranteed Valentine’s Day
delivery.  I must tell you the price was not cheap.  I ordered a gift
selection and with delivery it was over $65.00.



We are writing to inform you that your order for delivery February 14th was
not shipped yesterday as requested. 

We are prepared to ship your order on February 14th for arrival on the 15th
..  Alternatively, you do have the option of canceling your order, but we’d
rather you did not.

We regret that your order did not ship as requested and in consideration of
this delay, if you wish us to still ship the order, we will provide a
discount of 40% off the normal product price.

Please choose which course of action you wish that we take by replying to
this email or by sending an email to  <mailto:service@berries.com>
service@berries.com .


Shari’s Berries Customer Service Team


Obviously, he’s upset. The whole point of the stupidity of Valentine’s Day is that you have to have the goods, on time, or it doesn’t count.

But what’s enraging about this note is that it’s not from a real person. That they don’t explain why or how they screwed up. That they didn’t learn anything. And that they don’t accept responsibility.

What if Shari herself had written? What if she had explained what had happened, how it wouldn’t happen again, and what she had learned?

The problem with accepting responsibility, though, is that you can be too glib about it. A lot of responsibility taking in today’s newspaper for example,

"It was not Harry’s fault," Cheney said Wednesday on Fox News. "You
can’t blame anybody else. I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot
my friend."

"I am responsible for the Department of Homeland Security," said Michael Chertoff before Congress, explaining away the loss of life and property. "I’m accountable and accept responsibility for the
performance of the entire department."

David J. Edmondson, CEO of Radio Shack, after being caught faking his academic background, "I clearly
misstated my academic record and the responsibility for these
misstatements is mine alone."

Is "I accept responsibility" the new "Your call is very important to us"? Probably.