Mmm, Mmm Mmmaking Good

I received so many comments about my beef with the Campbell's Soup T-shirt promo ('Mmm, Mmm not good,' Strategy D+I, Aug. 12/02), I thought I should fill you in on what's happened since and how to react when something does go awry.

Letter

Soup support

I am so sorry to hear about the sad soup story. I am very curious to know if you have received these shirts yet from Campbell’s. Perhaps you can keep us readers posted.

I know one thing for sure: Campbell’s Soup is not getting my business based on your story.

I hope your kids have moved on to a more honest soup.

Cheers, Roula Lainas, producer, Lost Boys Studios

I received so many comments about my beef with the Campbell’s Soup T-shirt promo (‘Mmm, Mmm not good,’ Strategy D+I, Aug. 12/02), I thought I should fill you in on what’s happened since and how to react when something does go awry.

If you’ll recall, I’d mailed in Chunky Soup labels and a cheque in order to receive two Mario Lemieux Team Canada T-shirts for my kids. The T-shirts were supposed to arrive within six weeks but, when they hadn’t arrived after 10, I wrote Campbell’s again, asking where the shirts were…and got no reply.

The day the Campbell’s column was released online, I received a phone call from someone involved with the promo, apologizing for the delay and promising that the T-shirts were on their way. They did arrive and, although happy to finally receive them, I was a tad disappointed that they weren’t accompanied by a sorry-for-the-screw-up note. After all that the kids and I had been through, I’d expected a few written words of apology.

A few days later, however, I received a phone call from the Campbell’s business director – soup, Nick Evans. He expressed his sincere regret about the affair, accepted full blame and told me that, as a result of our problem, they had changed their fulfilment process.

The next day, a courier delivered a package of goodies and, most impressively, a letter that I would hold out to any customer service department as the epitome of letters of contrition.

‘I wanted to personally write you to apologize for the handling of your order…[It] was totally unacceptable and I apologize to your entire family for the delay. I have two sons and can understand their disappointment in not receiving their T-shirts.’

That’s what to do when you screw up. Admit it. Remember when Chrysler got caught resetting the odometers of their new cars? Rather than point out that turning them back was an industry-wide practice, the company took out full-page ads with CEO Lee Iacoca saying something like, ‘Driving our customers’ cars before they get them is a good idea. Hiding the fact is stupid.’ It put the scandal to rest ASAP.

The second paragraph of Evans’ letter states: ‘Based on the circumstances of your order, please accept a full refund for your order, two Team Canada caps and some coupons that might entice your children to dive in, once again, to Campbell’s products.’

Good move. The kids are PO’d that they’d had to wait forever to get their T-shirts, so give them a little something extra. The father’s upset that his cheque got cashed pronto but the goods were months late in arriving, so prove that you’re not a money-grubber – give him a refund.

Evans then talks about Campbell’s being caught by surprise by the number of orders received. ‘To meet this overwhelming demand, we ordered additional T-shirts three times. Your order arrived during a time when we were re-ordering for the third time. It had been our intent to contact all consumers that were affected by this delay. Unfortunately, not only were you not contacted, but you did not receive our June 14 shipment.’

When you’re dealing with a distraught customer, you have to be careful not to try to justify your error, because he or she doesn’t want excuses; s/he wants action. So give a brief explanation if you want but, as Evans did, follow it with the admission that the situation is still not acceptable.

The last paragraph of his letter gives Consumer Bob faith that Campbell’s has learned its lesson. ‘I want to assure you that we have taken steps…whereby this will not occur in any future promotions we may have.’ And he apologizes again for messing up.

Contrite. Honest. Sincere. That’s the way to be in a letter of apology. If Bill Clinton had had Nick Evans writing his speeches, he might not have faced impeachment.

So what can you do to stay out of the soup when running a promo?

1) Watch your fulfilment house: Choose it with care, then monitor it. Place test orders to see how quickly they get processed and, if there are problems, take action.

2) Prepare for excessive success: Have letters of apology in place in case demand exceeds supply. If you plan to stick to the ‘while quantities last’ loophole, be ready with a regretful letter and a refund…but be prepared for disappointed customers. If you plan to replenish your supply of premiums, send a letter to those on the waiting list and consider throwing in a freebie as compensation.

3) Address concerns in-house: Don’t trust an outside supplier to be as good at customer service as you are. After all, nobody knows your customers better than you do, and nobody cares about them more.

As a result of all this, the Knight kids now have two things to say: Mr. Christie, you make good cookies. Mr. Campbell, you’re forgiven.

When not chasing down missing T-shirts, Bob Knight creates direct, integrated and e-campaigns for a variety of agencies and advertisers across Canada and the U.S. Contact him at: b_knight@telus.net.