Credit Where It’s Due: The Art of the Apology Letter


Compensation and apology from Southern Rail

As a battle-hardened commuter with thousands of miles under my belt, it’s not often you’ll find me paying compliments to a train company, but here I am.

Southern Rail apologises

Recent bad weather caused a landslip on our line, disrupting journeys for a number of days.  Here’s the letter of apology that Mrs Leader received as a season ticket holder:

Dear Mrs Leader

Oxted Landslip – A little something to say sorry

We realise that the landslip at Oxted caused extensive disruption to your journeys, although we did our utmost to provide the best service possible in the circumstances.

Network Rail worked hard to rebuild the embankment so that we could restore a full service to the Uckfield and East Grinstead lines.

In recognition of the extended journey times and inconvenience caused we have awarded you £50.00 worth of M&S vouchers.

Again we would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Yours sincerely

Rhiannon Roberts
Contact Centre Manager
Southern & Gatwick Express Customer Services

The compensation seems adequate (Mrs Leader is happy) and it comes in the form of vouchers which can be used for personal items rather than from the originating category (Mrs Leader is happy) and the apology letter is pretty good (Mr Leader is happy…)

The art of the apology letter

The Southern letter isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad.
Sadly, I’ve written a few of these in my time, and here are the golden rules:

  1. Keep it short and simple
  2. Accept blame at the start – even if it’s your suppliers who’ve let you down
  3. Explain what you’ve done to alleviate the situation/prevent reoccurrence and how you will compensate the customer (if appropriate)
  4. Reiterate the apology
  5. Ensure the letter is from a named individual, not a department or the company
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2 Responses to Credit Where It’s Due: The Art of the Apology Letter

  1. Christian Blundell says:

    Ah, your DL days are long behind you, never compensate the customer unless you really have to !

  2. Richard says:

    Indeed Christian, DL seems a lifetime ago – but you raise an interesting point about compensation. One view would be that the train company effectively runs a monopoly (no other company offers a comparable service from my location) so why bother compensating? Let’s assume 3 reasons:
    1) Sending £50 in M&S vouchers is cheaper than offering full compensation for the delays/failed journeys
    2) They may need an element of customer good-will next time they are due to renegotiate their franchise or
    3) (The less cynical option) It was The Right Thing To Do…
    Any other reasons in this scenario?

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