Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word any more

24 Apr

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In the good old days (for “good”, read “bad”) when a company screwed up, it was a case of wait and see who notices, deal with complaints as and when they come in, and hope that nobody goes to the press. When (or if) the spotlight was finally thrown on the miscreant, a written statement to the press would have told us that the company had learned its lesson, and that such things just cannot happen today, etc. 

Well, some things don’t change; wait and see if we get caught still seems prevalent – but what does seem to have changed is the way that companies recognise they need to be much more proactive, sincere and even ‘human’ in how they respond, and to mean it!

 Saying sorry is the new black. It’s certainly not the hardest word any more    

 Take a look then at this little collection of video apologies (or, what passes for apologies, in some cases). Some are very new, some older. Thanks are due especially to the Wall St. Journal for a 2011 article that captures some good ones (referenced at the foot of this post).    

 Eurostar

 Although it looks like it was filmed in a broom cupboard, this one scores for being timely, rough and ready and, more importantly, ‘real’. And, the compensation offer is appropriately generous! 

JetBlue Airways

Here is an apology for the logistical snafus that grounded planes and people; pretty straightforward and direct, and again reassures listeners that they will learn, but with the less than specific ‘we’re-going-to-conduct-a-review-so-we-learn’ defence. On the plus side, the choice of venue is interesting – here is the COO, a man in the nerve centre of the operations, not in an anodyne media interview suite, and with his jacket off, so maybe he’s part of the solution, rather than just the spokesman? And, like many public apologies these days (Barclays in their one page ads from last year is a good example) he reminds us that he needs to re-earn our trust.      

SSE

SSE, a UK energy provider, was fined £10.5m this month for miss-selling. Here is the Managing Director of Retail in a video entitled Sorry isn’t good enough’. And yes, he’s at pains to stress that ‘it wasn’t me’, it all happened several years ago. This seems to be a sorry tale of yet another toxic culture, where targets and incentives were designed to benefit the company concerned, at the cost of its customers.  Is he truly remorseful? You decide.

Domino’s Pizzas

For a good and ‘human’ example, look no further. Here is the CEO’s response to a stupid and disgusting prank by two (now ex-) employees in one store. The interesting thing about this video is that it tracks audience reaction to the ‘believability’ of his words. This is a man talking with sincerity, passion and anger – watch how the scores shoot up as he talks of the business “reeling” from the incident, and how it “sickened” him. And of course, extra ticks for being very specific on the actions taken.

Netflix

Two people apologising, and it’s personal, but it seems to morph into a sales pitch for the new service too. Wasn’t much liked on youtube either, but then of course, there was a lot of anger around the move that eventually prompted the apology! Check it out here

Groupon

A good one, from Groupon. Scores for a very detailed explanation for what went wrong, and it’s open and humble.

Sony

Err, what’s with the backdrop ambient music? Maybe too slick? Take a look here.  

Toyota

Again, a nice one, detailed and specific, which is good. Nice to see a freephone number throughout, too, to add to the voiceover.

BP

Enough has been said about the CEO’s “I want my life back” comment already. All I can say is, don’t bother clicking on the link in the WSJ story at the end of this post, as you get a message saying, “This video is private”! Maybe they’ve decided to move on?

What, then, makes a good apology?

From the top – we don’t want to see a PR spokesman forced to go through the motions by his or her boss. We want to see it from the boss, or if not the boss, then the person accountable for ensuring it doesn’t happen again. And we want to be convinced that he or she ‘gets it’. Let’s not forget that a good apology ought to be worth its weight in gold – commentators talk of the Domino’s apology as a classic: by showing his anger and disgust, and moving to action, the CEO repaired many bridges.  

We want to see it – Press releases, full page ads, carefully crafted letters don’t seem to cut the mustard. We want to see sincerity, humility and be convinced that lessons have been learned and that things will change.  

Be specific – we want to feel that the speaker acknowledges the real details of the problem, rather than shies away from them, or talks vaguely. Without them talking about the specifics, the nagging doubt is, do they really understand what went wrong, and what it meant for those affected?

Be timely – better to be proactive, surely, than wait till the chorus of disapproval is deafening. And especially so if the trigger for the apology is a regulatory fine, or other public censure! There, the risk is the apology is perceived as too little too late. 

Actions speak louder – we want to see that the business is taking responsibility, now, and that practical action is being taken, in order to give us some belief that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. ‘Root and branch reviews’, internal investigations, audit committees are not the same as actions, by the way..the fear is, they are yet more smokescreen!

 

Finally, thanks to the Wall St Journal, for a 2011 round up of 10 CEO video apologies – I’ve used a few in this post, but for the full article, and access to all 10 (well, 9 given that the BP one has been taken down) click here

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2 Responses to “Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word any more”

  1. cheyserrdelacruz May 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Great post! And very true, the word “sorry” now only means formality. If I were the customer, I would rather see a solution than just listen to a sorry with no sincerity.

  2. cheyserrdelacruz May 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Great post! If I were the customer, I would rather patronize brands that provides solutions than just listen to sorry with no sincerity.

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