In the last few days I have personally witnessed 2 companies (other than ourselves) deal with annoyed customers.
In the first case (no names, my blog is not about embarrassing others), the owner of the company had to deal with a customer that was upset about a missed deliverable. This occurred while we were meeting with him. What impressed me about it was his attitude. Yes, he was genuinely upset about his company's process failure... but he was not embarrassed about it or trying to cover it up with the client or with us. Honesty goes a long way.
Too Much Success
The second case (again no names), involves a marketing firm that is running a website for a group of credit unions to foster better relationships with small businesses. The website is quite well done... clean and easy to use.
They had Seth Godin lined up to give a presentation on how you can "remove the small from small business". Now they had hosted a number of other live seminars which I assume were successful. But if you know of Seth, you know that he is extremely popular.
My guess is that word started spreading quickly (think Twitter) and the website was overwhelmed by the volume. So much so that the pages could not even load, never mind see the presentation itself.
I sent a note to the seminar host and got a response back within a few minutes. Yup, the seminar was more popular than expected and was going to be posted later in the day for members to view.
Moral of the Story
If you are a business you are going to mess up with your customers at some time... guaranteed. How you deal with it is as important as run your regular business, even more so.
Deal with people honestly and quickly when you mess up. Fix it and do what you can to prevent similar problems from happening while accepting that with the world and especially people, you can never eliminate risk and !#$# happens.
And remember, word of your mess ups can spread faster than you can even imagine. The viral spreading of information on the Internet is a two edged sword wielded by a crowd. You can't control it, but you can influence it through honesty, quick response and building relationships. (Sorry, putting your head in the sand doesn't help, it just means you have no chance to benefit at all.)