Speaker’s block

I frequently come back on this blog to give examples of companies and organizations apologizing poorly. The whole, “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” just raises my hackles.

But why is that topic appropriate for a blog about getting into college?

Because words matter. Because kids, parents, counselors, teachers, and colleges communicate with each other frequently in writing. Because far too many students write college essays that sound stiff, informal, and not at all like them. And because I believe that good writers have an advantage, one that will be even more pronounced as we all spend more time emailing and less time talking face-to-face. My hope is that these examples of how to do it wrong will help more people see how to do it right.

Here’s this week’s example.

Delta Airlines suffered a computer outage that, by the time it was finally sorted out, had grounded their planes around the world, caused thousands of cancellations and delays, and left thousands of travelers stranded.

Here’s the email they sent (and yes, they misspelled “disruption”):

This week we failed to deliver on the reliability you, as a SkyMiles member, have come to expect from Delta Air Lines. We’re sorry we let you down and for the inconvenience it may have caused you. We appreciate your patience during this time. Please know that we are committed to providing exceptional service on every flight. We will do everything possible to make certain this does not happen again and look forward to the opportunity to serve you soon.

Your Delta Family

The bar is now so low for company apologies that this one is actually better than most. But here’s my litmus test. If the CEO’s mother had been stranded in an airport because of Delta’s outage, would she have received the same email? If the answer is no, then why should everybody else receive it?

You count on us to be reliable. When you book flights for your vacation, your business meeting, your college visit, etc., we’re supposed to get you there on time. But this week, we let thousands of you down. That’s not good enough, not for us, and not for our customers. The cause of these delays was technological, but no excuse will erase the hassle, disappointment, and justifiable frustration you likely felt. And for that, we are so sorry. We hope that with our history together, and our commitment to making sure that we never experience something like this again, you might be willing to fly Delta again. To that end, we’re going to credit you for the miles that you would have earned had your flight(s) not been cancelled last week. We appreciate your decision to fly with us, and we are so sorry that we didn’t get you where you were supposed to go, when you were supposed to be there. We hope you’ll give us another chance to get it right.

Your Delta Family

When in doubt, pretend you were saying it out loud to one person who matters to you. Then write what you would say. Writer’s block may be real. But speaker’s block rarely is.