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3 (Fill-in-the-Blank) Lessons From United Airlines' Viral Apology Letter

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Although using boilerplate forms can be a great way to cut down on time spend drafting repetitive documents, it can also come back to bite you.

United Airlines found that out the hard way this week when a customer received the company's fill-in-the-blank apology letter without any of the blanks filled in, reports the New York Daily News. United Airlines confirmed in a written statement that they "sometimes use standardized wording to start drafting a letter addressing the customer's concern."

Here are three lessons that can be learned from United Airlines air-balled apology:

  1. Your mistakes can haunt you online. Once upon a time, United Airlines' error would have only been seen by the customer who received it and maybe a few of the customers' friends. But thanks to the advent of social media and user-curated news sites such as Reddit -- where the customer who received the letter initially posted a photo of it -- your embarrassing mistake may potentially be seen by millions.
  2. Be sincere. Contrary to what you might have heard, not all customer complaints warrant an apology. But if the customer's complaint about your business' product or service does warrant an apology, it's worth making your apology sincere. A good example is Papa John's CEO John Schattner's apology to customers who received a butt-dialed racist voicemail. Schattner's apology was also coupled with action: He terminated the employee in question. If a customer's complaint is valid, doing something to fix the problem is the best way to show you care.
    • Need legal advice on how your small business should operate? Consult with an experienced business attorney about your options.
  3. Proofread everything. Mistakes can be more than just embarrassing, they can cost you money. A Best Buy promotion in 2013 giving customers using MasterCard $50 off purchases of $100 or more failed to include language limiting the number of coupons a customer could use or restricting them from using multiple coupons to purchase gift cards. As a result, customers purchased thousands of dollars in gift cards to Amazon and other retailers for half the price before Best Buy got wise to their error. Documents, advertisements, website content, or anything else potentially visible to customers should always be read by at least two people.

Although United Airlines' customer service gaffe is causing its fair share of LOLs online, the company is not likely finding it very humorous. In the most recent Airline Quality Rating report, United finished 12th out of 15 U.S. airlines.

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