The DNA of an Apology

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Every week, it seems there is a new PR crisis sweeping across our Twitter streams. Groupon, Airbnb, Kenneth Cole, Esquire, the list goes on and on. Most recently, Netflix has faced backlash for their price hikes and response or lack there of. With all of these instances, it seems that companies still aren’t understanding the importance of a sincere apology. If they don’t understand, maybe they don’t know where to begin in this transparent climate. Well, here is the DNA of a good apology…

Timeliness

Growing up, my mom always made sure that I knew that an apology meant much more, sooner rather than later. The ability to apologize in the heat of an argument, issue, or mistake took great strength but resolved issues much quicker, and exhibited sincerity because it took courage to say and admit. Apologizing days or weeks later doesn’t mean nearly as much as a quick apology.

Companies and PR departments still are trying to grab this concept of timely transparency when it comes to admitting mistakes. It took Netflix weeks to address the price hike, as did Groupon when they were under fire for their Super Bowl commercial fiasco. Incidentally, those apologies were seen as hollow and didn’t diffuse the complaints that had been building. The opportunity for a calming voice came and went long before they actually stepped up.

Sincerity

As a 21 year-old in a long-term relationship, I guess you can say that I’ve had my fair share of experience in apologizing. First rule: Never say, “I’m sorry you felt that way.” Saying that, says that you’re not actually sorry for your actions; but rather you’re sorry because of the reaction you received. I can tell you right now that this is not a sincere form of apology and customers see right through it. Again, Groupon failed at this a while back, as have many other companies.

In today’s transparent line of communication from brands to consumers, you must admit fault or at the very least empathize with the angry customer. Remember, they don’t HAVE to give you their time and money. So, if you make a mistake, be sincere in your apology and understand what you did wrong… The customer is much more likely to understand and forgive for sincerity.

Resolution

I’ll tell you right now… an apology is not enough anymore.  Resolutions both requested and unrequested have become the standard. If you give an unhappy customer a resolution along with your apology at their request, they’ll be satisfied. Give a customer a resolution or gift without a request? You’ve just turned an angry customer into an evangelist. Don’t do either? Good luck.

People want to know you care, and while offering coupons and resolutions can’t save a bad product, it can definitely turn mistakes into fruitful opportunities. But beware, make sure that your customers would welcome these resolutions. I’m not positive how Netflix’s split into Qwikster will work out in the long run. But, I can tell you that it wasn’t a well-sourced change on Reed Hastings and co.’s part. The apology and resolution finally came, but the customer’s can tell that they are still not a priority.

We all make mistakes and will make many more. What separates the great companies from everyone else is the ability to express a human reaction in times where transparency is key. Being able to apologize and empathize in a sincere manner turns even the angriest of customers into believers.

Remember: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

This blog post was contributed by Harrison Kratz. Harrison is the Community Manager at MBA@UNC, the new MBA program offered through the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill which gives students the opportunity to earn their MBA online from a business school with a top twenty MBA ranking.  Harrison also sticks to his entrepreneurial roots as the founder of the global social good campaign, TweetDrive.

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