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50 Ways to Say You’re Sorry

Sometimes, mistakes can’t be avoided. But if your company has wronged a client, there are ways to salvage the relationship. Here’s how company promotional products can help.

Admit it, you goofed up. Perhaps your company missed a deadline or fell short of a client’s expectations. Or maybe the snafu was your fault: You forgot to follow up when you promised – or you said something that was downright inappropriate. You’re certainly not alone. But there’s no need to walk away with egg on your face. A heartfelt “I’m sorry” to a client goes a long way toward rectifying a mishap – and saving the relationship, says Mark Bernstein, merchandiser for Carlson Marketing Group, based in Minneapolis. “Take ownership of the problem,” Bernstein says, “and explain your plan for correcting the error and remedying the situation in the future.”

Sending a follow-up gift can also work miracles to salvage a relationship with a disappointed client, Bernstein says. Such gifts need not be expensive – and can be funny or creative, if the blunder was a minor one, or the client has a sense of humor. Need some ideas? Here are 50 ways to say you’re sorry to a valued client. Keep them on hand for future blunders, missteps and foot-in-mouth situations.

1. Sweetening a relationship gone sour with chocolates, or other candies, is one sure way to re-bond. Customizing the chocolate to the message can be even more effective. Rhonda Morkes, a promotional products manufacturer, recalls one client who ordered chocolate in the shape of a foot and sent it to an annoyed client along with the message, “Sorry I put my foot in my mouth.” Another overbearing sales rep once sent a client a chocolate ear, with a note: “Sorry I wasn’t listening very well.”

Got a client who is so annoyed he won’t even return your phone calls? Consider sending a chocolate telephone along with the plea, “I’ve been trying to call you. Will you please pick up the phone and give me another chance?” Morkes’ company created such telephones for one client, a national cable television chain, and the treats worked like magic.

2. Consider sending potpourri with a humorous message like, “I’m sorry we let you down on your last order. I hope this sweet-smelling gift will help clear the air.”

3. Send a logoed first-aid kit and ask if the two of you can “patch things up.”

4. Want a client to have a daily reminder of you once she’s cooled off? Find out what her hobby is and send her a specialty calendar, such as one for dog lovers or sports buffs. Or, send a calendar full of cartoons, and invite clients to laugh at your expense.

5. Send neat freaks a paper-clip dispenser or other items to keep their desks tidy with the message, “I’d like to make a clean sweep.”

6. Notepads and desk planners (which can be customized with an upbeat message) will be welcomed as well.

7. Send a disposable camera branded with your company’s logo and ask the customer to give you “another shot.”

8. Once you’ve corrected a mistake, send an eye-catching logoed pen, suggests Bernstein, so “the client will think of you the next time it’s used.”

9. A corporate food gift is an ideal way to gain someone’s attention, and what better way than through gourmet popcorn? It can be shipped out in various containers, many of which are sectioned, so that caramel enthusiasts don’t fight with the chocolate or cheddar groupies.

10. Looking to give someone a warm and fuzzy “I’m sorry”? Think teddy bears. That certainly worked for a hotel in the midwest, says Steven Smith, a promotional products manufacturer. The 700-room hotel was undergoing a renovation and people were griping about the lights going off, water problems and noise. “We were contacted, and within 24 hours, we supplied them with a few hundred bears,” he says. “When patrons returned to their rooms that night, they were surprised to see a bear on each bed, with a message reading, ?Please bear with us during our renovation.'”

Smith says the program was so successful that the hotel continued to place the bears in rooms daily during the renovation for about another month. “I think we must have supplied about a thousand bears during that time,” he says. “It seemed like medicine. People were no longer upset by the situation – it most definitely assuaged most of the problem.”

In fact, Smith adds, patrons loved the “apology” so much that many asked about buying the bears. The result? The hotel purchased more bears to be sold in the gift shop.

11. No one can resist a healthy snack. Send a basketfull of seasonal fruits and you’ll get a client’s attention – and won’t blow his diet.

12. Balloons make everyone smile. Send a bunch with a customized message.

13. Next month, your clients’ minds will be on April showers. Why not send an umbrella with the message, “We’re sorry – but we’ve got you covered next time.”

14. Send a mini-lighter, which can be used for lighting up everything from fireplaces to candelabras and fondue pots – plus the client’s attitude toward you.

15. Soothe a disgruntled customer by offering music to her ears. Look into music download cards, where the individuals can choose their favorite tunes.

16. Send ice cream on a hot day, joking that you hope they’ve “gotten a chance to cool off” after your mistake.

17. Send a “sorry” message in a picture frame. After you’ve been forgiven, your client can reuse the frame for a picture of a loved one.

18. Send logoed bookends, along with the hottest new business book on the market.

19. Desk clocks – “It’s time to say we’re sorry.” Need we say more?

20. Send a singing telegram. Choose your words carefully, as this is the perfect opportunity to say exactly what you intend.

21. Remember the client’s birthday, and send a special card to commemorate the event.

22. Send packages of seeds with messages such as, “Feeling like a blooming idiot for letting you down,” (with a packet of wildflower seeds) or “Lettuce turn over a new leaf” (lettuce seeds) . . . you get the idea.

23. For clients who are too short on patience to grow their own blooms (see #22), send fresh-cut flowers with a special message.

24. When a simple apology is appropriate, send a greeting card with your company’s logo on it. Not only does this approach afford the opportunity for you to say sorry for the mistake, but the branding on the front reminds the client of your company.

25. For super-angry clients, offer a greeting card that includes a discount coupon on their next order.

26. Got a client with a funny bone? June Edwards, group marketing manager for The Magnet Group, recommends humor as a way to mend fences. Her company has used the children’s book, Everybody Poops – which talks about how everyone makes mistakes – to send to disgruntled clients. For larger mistakes, she also includes a 1,000-minute phone card. “People always respond positively,” she says. “They appreciate the fact that we are able to make fun of ourselves.”

27. Write “I am so sorry” in icing on a cookie or cake.

28. Send a gift card or certificate to a movie theater chain, along with a list of your movie recommendations. Clients will appreciate the thought you put into the gift.

29. Couch potatoes will warm up to gift certificates for movie rentals, complete with a tub of popcorn and some candy, and a note that promises them “movie-star treatment” on their next order.

30. Sometimes a gift that can be enjoyed by a recipient’s entire family is appreciated. Your best bet? Send a gift certificate that provides a variety of choices, so the client and his family can have fun picking out their own treats.

31. Some say the best way to a client’s heart is through her assistant. That in mind, send the assistant a gift card to a local restaurant and ask her to enjoy lunch on you.

32. Drop off donuts in a box, emblazoned with your company’s logo every month until you’ve been forgiven.

33. When the circus comes to town, send tickets for the client and his entire family.

34. Send logoed pencils to a client, promising to “sharpen your pencil” and take a discount off his next order.

35. Tie in your apology with Forgiveness Day, which is the first Sunday in August.

36. Warm up the relationship with hot cocoa packets, delivered in an imprinted mug imprinted with your company’s logo.

37. Send binoculars, along with the message, “We’ve got a clearer and improved vision for you in the future.”

38. If you want to capture the attention of athletic clients, send them sports items that can add to their successes. Appeal to them with headbands and wristbands, with the message: “We’re sorry. Give us another chance and we’ll sweat every detail for you.”

39. Or send socks, saying, “Give us another chance to knock your socks off.”

40. Send avid golfers to the links. Don’t forget accessories, such as custom imprinted golf balls, gloves and sunglasses.

41. Want to tell a client you’ll “go nuts” if you don’t win back her business? Promotional consultant Bonnie Kohnert recently worked with a nationwide furniture company that needed “goof up” gifts on hand for when furniture deliveries arrived late. Whenever such a mishap occurred, the company forwarded the client’s name and address to Kohnert, who quickly followed up with gift boxes of nuts with handwritten notes apologizing for the inconvenience.

The disgruntled clients responded to the gifts very favorably, Kohnert says. “They built goodwill and showed that the company really cared about them.”

42. Send a stack of news clippings related to the client’s business, delivered in a folder or binder emblazoned with your company’s logo.

43. Send a business book on tape, telling the client you’re ready to listen when they’re ready to talk.

44. Sign the client up for a subscription to a favorite business publication or newsletter.

45. Send an offering of exotic teas or coffees presented in an elegantly logoed box.

46. Send a card with “I’m sorry” written in multiple languages. (“Any way I can say it, I’m sorry.”)

47. Offer up a plush dog, asking the client to let you “out of the doghouse.”

48. Put a client in a sunny mood by sending her a beach towel (featuring your company’s logo) just before her summer vacation.

49.Order pizza for the client’s office. The day before, send him a pizza cutter emblazoned with your corporate logo.

50. Invite the client to a ball game and bring along a logoed hat or visor to keep the sun out of his eyes.

By Denise Jensen. Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2006

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