A token apology with the right token

Regular readers know that I’m a fan—and a customer—of the company Basecamp. In November, their software went down for the longest period of downtime in company history. And in this episode of their podcast (you can access other ways to listen at the podcast’s main site), their CTO, David Heinemeier Hansson, details how they responded, communicated with, and ultimately apologized to their customers.

Hansson points out that when you let a customer down, you have two tokens available to you: 1) This is a huge deal, and 2) This isn’t that big of a deal. When you grab the first token, the odds increase substantially that the customer will grab the second token.

Basecamp has hundreds of thousands of paying customers. When the software was down for an entire day, only one customer expressed outright anger (turns out they were in fact deeply affected). And many others wrote in expressing their support, understanding, and devotion to the product.

You don’t have to be in business to use this approach. The next time you let someone down, take the right token and see what happens.