When Your Company Has to Say Sorry, Here’s How to Do It Right
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It’s lockdown redux, so companies are again apologizing to customers for delays, closures, and unavailable services. Most do it terribly. A much-utilized apology fail is “We missed the mark,” used by Pepsi, Dove, and Avon in the past few years while retracting ads insensitive to women and minorities. The political version is the exquisitely passive “Mistakes were made,” uttered by presidents Nixon, H.W. Bush, Reagan, and Clinton after various scandals.
Researchers and communications pros say companies and politicians need to raise their game when it comes to apologizing. Far too often they resort to blame, clichés, and platitudes, such as “We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” while failing to offer adequate compensation for the trouble clients have had. “An apology helps repair the bond between the business and the customer,” says Amy Ebesu Hubbard, a professor of communications at the University of Hawaii. “If there’s no clearly stated apology, that communicates that the company doesn’t care about the customer, or that there’s no longer even a relationship.” Ouch.
A crash course: You need to say you’re sorry every time a customer is somehow harmed, and that apology should usually include four components: accepting responsibility, showing that you understand the difficulty caused, stating what you’ve learned, and explaining what you’ll do in the future. These can sometimes be brief—just a few words—and for minor transgressions such as a shipping delay on a nonessential item, you may not need all four components. Use your judgment. But do it right:
● Don’t blame Covid-19.
Your customers already know deep in their souls and toes and wallets that there’s a virus—and that it’s been mucking up everything for almost a year now. If you’re still blaming the pandemic for business disruptions, customers may wonder why your company hasn’t found another way to meet their needs. “At this point, using Covid-19 as a reason is getting old,” says Hubbard.
Wrong: Because of the current Covid-19 situation, we’re closing our stores early.
Right: We’re keeping our employees safe by instituting split shifts.
215,860 in U.S.Most new cases today
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-0.7914 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23
4% Global GDP Tracker (annualized), Oct.