Bad customer service happens. We all know it. We've all been on the receiving end of it. For those of us who deal with the public, we've all had our less than stellar days. For e-Businesses, sometimes it's not a human moment that gets in the way; it's a burp in the technology.

What counts is how a company takes responsibility for that occasional bad customer experience. It may surprise you what customers really, really want when it happens.

The Nottingham School of Economics recently published a new study asking disgruntled eBay customers what would be more likely to smooth their ruffled feathers; some sort of monetary compensation or a simple apology.

The overwhelming response was a preference for a straight apology.

Researchers worked with a large eBay seller (10,000+ sales a month). Approaching customers who had left negative feedback, some were offered somewhere between $4 - $8 to reconsider their complaint. Others were offered an apology to do the same.

45% of the participants offered an apology withdrew their complaint.

23% of the participants offered cash withdrew their complaint.

Okay, so now we know what they want (er um, I call it simple human decency), The tricky part for the online business, however, is what constitutes a sincere apology from a faceless e-Business. I personally would not be impressed by an automated message. That's about as warm and fuzzy as my ATM machine wishing me a good day (banks really do that - hello!).

As you consider how to reach out and touch your online customers and contacts, consider this:

1. If it's important, like an apology, use the phone when possible.

2. If you don't have a phone number, use e-mail and sign it from a real person, with a real title and a real e-mail address to reply back. Don't use form letters. Write a short, sincere, personalized note addressing what happened and how the matter is being corrected.

The bottomline is that people online are expecting an impersonal automated response. What they want when they are upset is for a real person to listen to them and, yes, to apologize when its warranted.

If it's really bad; apologize first and then offer appropriate compensation (airlines take note!).