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June 08, 2008

In Search of "I'm Sorry"

J0415962 I take a certain satisfaction in typing and mailing a strongly worded letter to a company who has done me wrong. I’ve written a half dozen or so—well, perhaps nearly a dozen—over the course of several years.

I do believe that corporate executives and managers desire to know when their product has let a customer down. Generally my letters have been to airlines relating to—no surprise here—horribly handled delays and baggage issues. Favorable results, in the form of ticket vouchers, have served to encourage my letter writing.

This past week has been one for the record books: two strongly worded letters typed and mailed in just a few days. The first was to a paint company. Seduced by “no VOC” claims I spent much more than I normally would on two gallons of paint. It did indeed live up to the no-fume claim. The problem? The two gallons—of the same color—dried in two completely different shades! As I wrote in my letter, “no matter what else a paint does or does not do, the bottom line is color. The customer must be able to trust the color.”

The second letter was to the corporate office of our local pharmacy. About half-way through the course a recent prescription, I realized the pills were almost gone. A closer inspection of the label told me they had included 80 pills when simple math multiplying the daily dosage and day supply would tell you that a total of 112 pills was called for.

When I went back to explain the error—and after much explanation they did give me the additional pills—the pharmacist handed the bottle over without so much as an apology.

I was shocked.

This was no small error. In fact, when it comes to prescription medicines I believe there is no such thing as a small error. With no acknowledgment of wrong on his part I realized I needed to say something. I let him know this wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a problem with a prescription at his pharmacy, and that I was certain that as the pharmacist he put a premium on accuracy. I asked if he would be addressing this matter with this staff or at least the person who filled this particular prescription.

He looked at me like a deer in headlights: he was unwilling or unable to take any responsibility for the error. Thus, I felt compelled to come home and draft that letter to his higher-ups.

Recently, there has been a great deal of press about Harvard Medical School and their new approach to medical errors. They are—get this—teaching their students to say sorry when they’ve made a medical mistake. Rather than increasing malpractice liability, studies have shown that taking responsibility and apologizing for error actually reduces lawsuits!

A simple apology; taking responsibility for an error—that’s what people are looking for when they feel they’ve been wronged. At their bottom line, that’s what my letters are about. As parents, isn’t responsibility a core value we’re trying to teach our children?

Why is it in seemingly such short supply?

Original post to DC Metro Moms.
When she’s not sending strongly worded letters to corporate executives, Aimee blogs about her life at Smiling Mama.

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