Mistakes in business are unavoidable. At times, your dealership may under deliver, overpromise, recommend the wrong kind of equipment or, for whatever reason, be less professional than you would like. Combine that with situations out of your control, such as delayed parts delivery or manufacturer errors, and there is the constant potential to make mistakes. Then what?

You fix the problem, of course, but you also need to be ready to say “I’m sorry.” I learned of a recent situation where an email technology malfunction led to annoyances for customers. The company immediately sent a message to affected customers, explaining honestly what happened, the measures that were being taken to avoid further instances, and included a sincere apology. Dozens of replies came back, saying things like ‘No problem,’ and ‘We’ve been through the same thing,’ and ‘Keep up the good work.’

Josh St. Peters, vice president and managing director of public relations for Osborn Barr, explains the importance of the apology. “We counsel clients in a tough situation that credibility often hinges on their ability to honestly and authentically apologize for the issue in a timely manner. Customers have expectations around service levels and response in a tough situation. There are plenty of stories where brand loyalty and repeat business were either built or broken by a company's ability to respond during a break down in process or performance.”

Osborn Barr is an agriculture-focused, full-service marketing agency based in St. Louis. Their experts write Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s “Marketing Matters” column.

St. Peters offers this advice for how to do the apology right. “My biggest advice is to size the response to the problem and trust your gut. If it's a fairly isolated challenge, a phone call from a manager or other leader in the business can go a long way. But in wide-spread challenges, a business needs to be prepared with a broader means of response. Just remember that it still has to read like a personal communication. No form letters or generic ‘Dear customer’ notes. It has to be written in a tone that conveys a real person genuinely cares about the inconvenience they have caused another real person, and it should be signed by a specific leader of the business.”

And, St. Peters says to avoid any temptations to be less than truthful, wait too long, make an excuse — or ignore it altogether. The apology will only take you so far, however. He says businesses then need to make it up to customers and to set up processes to avoid the problem happening again. Your customers will give you that chance. “Customers, especially people in rural America, have a great perspective on humanity. I believe everyone understands that mistakes happen,” St. Peters says.

It’s admirable for dealers to be on the path to perfection and taking responsibility for being less than perfect is just part of that path.