Recently I wrote an article about how Whitman's candies lost me as a loyal customer due to misleading packaging. They put 12 pieces of candy in a box that could have held 30 pieces. The weight on the label was the only indication of the sneaky packaging. While I wrote the blog article, my wife send a complaint letter to Russell Stover who made the box.
Today, we received a response from Russell Stover. Unfortunately, they missed the opportunity to win us back. Instead of an acknowledgement of the problem we got a form letter explaining that the "box was filled by weight and not by volume," and how the "net weight must comply with all Federal and State regulations." I won't share the whole letter here out of respect for the confidentiality statement they appended. I'm sure such things are not legally enforceable, but I see no compelling need to go against their request.
How should a leader respond to such a customer complaint? Russell Stover was stuck between not wanting to admit wrongdoing and knowing that such packaging is misleading. Rather than defensively explaining how their customer didn't understand their correct actions, a leader can fall back on the truth, even if it isn't a confession of guilt. In this case perhaps, "We understand how you could have felt deceived by our packaging choice. We will convey your concerns to our management. We hope we can better serve you with our products in the future." These are all things that are true and affirming. We would have preferred, "We shouldn't have done that."