Brandon Marshall en Leadership, Communications and journalism Freelance Writer and Editor • Contractor 18/11/2016 · 2 min de lectura · +900

How NOT to write a professional apology letter

How NOT to write a professional apology letter

United States Army veteran Ernest Walker just went to Chili’s restaurant for the promise of a free burger.

The restaurant showed its “appreciation” for his service by confiscating his leftovers, questioning his service credentials and ejecting him from the Cedar Hill, TX location. The restaurant chose to disrespect Walker on, of all days of the year, Veterans Day–the day Americans dedicate to showing appreciation for the service of veterans like Walker.

The restaurant manager accused Mr. Walker of not being a “real” veteran and even questioned whether he could legally bring his clearly-marked service dog into the restaurant. (American law allows Mr. Walker to bring his service dog into restaurants and forbids restaurants from barring his dog.)

Chili’s humiliated and dishonored Mr. Walker on Veterans’ Day. How did the restaurant chain react to their terrible behavior?

Judging from their CEO’s apology letter, they didn’t respond well at all. In fact, you could argue they made the situation worse. Below is Chili’s CEO Kelli Velade’s tepid response to her company’s terrible behavior:

Since we opened our doors, we’ve had one passion – to make people feel special. At Chili’s, it’s more than just about the food; it’s more than just about a meal. Every day we strive to create a great experience for you, your families and your friends. There are more than 100,000 of us working together to take care of our Guests, like no place else.
However, on Nov. 11, one of our restaurants failed to live up to our expectations and in doing so, we let down a valued Guest. Last week, Mr. Walker, a veteran, came into our restaurant to participate in our Chili’s program honoring veterans and active military with a free meal. Unfortunately, Mr. Walker was not treated in a manner our veterans deserve. On a day where we served more than 200,000 free meals as a small gesture of our appreciation for our veterans and active military for their service, we fell short.
Today, we personally apologized to Mr. Walker for the unfortunate experience in our restaurant on Veterans Day and thanked him for his service to our country. We also thanked him for taking the time to speak with us and he appreciated our apology. We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant. We are now in the process of working with Mr. Walker on a resolution that promotes trust and healing.
We are committed to making this right because this is not representative of what Chili’s stands for, where every day, in every restaurant, we connect, serve and give to create the best life.
On behalf of our Team Members, I want to thank you for listening, acknowledging our apology and we look forward to making you feel special in our restaurants.
Sincerely, Kelli Valade

Did you notice what was missing in this letter? Ms. Valade never apologizes to Chili’s patrons for behavior that even she admits let down a “valued Guest” and failed to treat him “in a manner our veterans deserve.” The next-to-last paragraph mentions that the restaurant chain apologized to Mr. Walker, but Ms. Valade never apologizes to Chili’s patrons within the letter. So if you were offended by the chain’s behavior, they assume you’ll eventually get over it.

Another thing I noticed is that the entire first paragraph is a brazen advertisement promoting Chili’s supposed values. Pardon me, but I don’t want to hear an advertisement from your chain after you’ve admitted to letting one of your customers down. You prove your values by what you do, not what you say, and all I have to do is search on the internet for “Chili’s manager” and see for myself how you really care about your customers.

Also, notice the tone of the letter–it was clearly written by someone in the public relations or legal department. Those of us in the business know why the letter was written this way and that the person writing the letter (clearly not the CEO) is just doing his/her job. But when you mess up this bad, you need to sound human and this letter is too carefully-worded to be genuine. Granted, you save the chain further embarrassment by carefully writing the letter this way, but you also sound like you don’t really mean it when you say you’re sorry.

So is all forgiven? Search for #BoycottChilis on Twitter and see for yourself.

If you’re going to bother writing an apology letter on behalf of your company make sure you 1.) Actually apologize for unacceptable behavior you clearly identify, 2.) Don’t include marketing jargon, slogans or other self-promoting content and 3.) Sound like a genuine human with feelings.

If you can’t manage those three simple requirements, you’d be better off not writing a professional apology letter at all.

This post first appeared on The Good Idea Exchange, a blog about leadership and self-improvement.



Brandon Marshall Nov 20, 2016 · #11

#4 Harvey, I think the senior leadership seem as insensitive as the restaurant manager who started this.

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Brandon Marshall Nov 20, 2016 · #10

#9 It doesn't take a lot of effort to be genuine and respectful--I think they'll surely lose customers because of the way they handled this.

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Franci Eugenia Hoffman Nov 19, 2016 · #9

This letter is a poor excuse for an apology. It wreaks of insincerity and seems to be written by someone that needed to clean out their "in box". I agree with you @Brandon Marshall

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Brandon Marshall Nov 19, 2016 · #7

#5 Great points, Pamela! I don't think senior leadership really understood how this angered their customers. They probably won't take it seriously until they see their sales drop. By then, it will be too late to do anything about it.

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Brandon Marshall Nov 19, 2016 · #6

#3 I'm not sure the bad publicity they generated was worth the price of the burger they repossessed from Mr. Walker.

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Pamela L. Williams Nov 19, 2016 · #5

Brandon, Absolutely. The whole thing wreaked of insincere business-as-usual with the help of marketing and a lawyer. I hope Mr. Walker felt okay with the apology but this letter 'sucks rotten eggs'. Having sat in as minutes taker in corporate meetings I can probably hear the conversation;
It was just a meal, for christ's sake, what's the big deal, okay, how are we going to handle this? So-and-so, write a letter by so-and-so time and we'll meet again to review. Damn that manager for not handling this better; didn't we teach them how to confront bad customers? Do we need to hold another round of training sessions on how to properly handle disgruntled guests. Now, on to other subjects; what were the losses for the veteran give-away? How can we decrease the free meals, while still capitalizing on the 'community good-will' campaign?
No where are they referred to as human-beings, they are 'guests', in other words, walking stiffs with wallets.

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Harvey Lloyd Nov 19, 2016 · #4

Has it really gotten so complicated that when we make a mistake we can't just apologize? The letter looked like one written for the state of the union address. The irony truly is that even though the letter stated the values, clearly these values were not present in this situation. Restating them didn't make it better but rather reinforced the leadership's inability to perform at the customer level.

Maybe the leadership needs to apply to undercover boss?

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