The other day, as I was gassing up the car, I noticed something on the pump -- a list of all the taxes that are added to gas, and their amounts. It added up to a pretty big chunk of the price of each gallon.

I don't know whether gas stations are required to list that information, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that would be required. Instead, I'm guessing it's their way of saying, "it's not our fault your gas is so expensive -- it's the government's."

A bit deceptive perhaps, considering the subsidies oil companies receive, that are paid for by -- you guessed it -- taxes.

But this post isn't about fiscal policy. It's about what to do about things that make your customers unhappy. Two approaches come to mind.

Shift Blame

The approach I saw at the pump the other day was to shift the blame for the problem to somebody else. When the problem isn't your fault, it makes sense to educate your customers.

But you've got to be careful how you do it so that you don't come across as a whiner, blamer, or even worse, a liar. There's a big difference between, "we're sorry you have to go through the security scanner -- the government requires it," "we're sorry our insulation won't keep your house warm -- the government won't let us use asbestos," and "we're sorry your computer crashed -- please contact the maker of your video driver."

If you want to go beyond diffusing customer dissatisfaction and make your customers love you, the second approach is for you:

Take Responsibility

Your city just increased their sales tax levy? Tell customers "we'll pay the sales tax."

Asbestos just got banned? Invent a safe and effective insulation.

A common product requires an add-on from its vendor to work with yours? Make a deal with the vendor to provide the add-on free to your customers only.

Taking responsibility and solving the problem may not be easy. And you won't always be able to do it without raising prices.

Reader Comment:
Nikole Fairview said:
When I saw this topic, I had to read your post on it. You have discussed responsibility in advertising before and you always handle it in an interesting way. The nature of the sales industry should always bring us here eventually, I feel. I like w...
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But ultimately, that's what marketing is all about -- identifying problems and offering solutions. The customer doesn't care whose fault it is -- they just want the problem solved.