The Globe and Mail didn’t show up at my door last Saturday. I called circulation and when the robotic voice said, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience,” my anger disappeared.
Here I was talking to a machine, but I still felt better to have my feelings recognized and acknowledged.
I’d advise companies to apologize early and often. Make customers know you care. Be sincere. Don’t be cavalier or hypocritical.
BP’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, said in Washington today: “We care about the small people.” Later, he said he was “very sorry” for speaking clumsily. Nothing worse than having to apologize for your apology.
Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of behavioural economics, talks about the power of an apology in his new book, The Upside of Irrationality.
He describes a hair-raising experience with a new car whose engine conked out on the highway. The people in Audi’s customer service angered him with “their clear lack of concern and their strategy of playing a game of attrition with me.”
Later, when he picked up his car from the repair shop, the head mechanic told him, “Sorry, but sometimes cars break.” That had a surprisingly calming effect, he says.
I suspect if the customer service representative had said, “Sorry, but sometimes cars break,” and had showed some sympathy, the whole sequence would have played out very differently.
Could it be that apologies can improve interactions and soothe the instinct for revenge in business and in personal exchanges?
Ariely got his revenge. He wrote a fictional case study in the Harvard Business Review and sent a copy to the head of customer service at Audi, along with a note saying that the article was based on his experience. He never heard back from him.
Do you have stories about corporate apologies that made you feel better? Do you think that if CEOs ignored their lawyers and said they were sorry when they made mistakes, customers would feel less need to take revenge?