02 Jun 2015

The art of saying sorry

“Saying ‘Sorry’ is important, but not doing the damn thing again is more important” Anon.

Sorry. It’s a short word but it seems to choke certain institutions and individuals. We’ve all seen large corporations or senior public figures issuing ‘apologies’ – think HSBC on tax-evading customers, or Gordon Brown on ‘bigoted’ supporters who ask awkward questions. The over-riding impression these apologies convey is ‘I’m sorry I was caught’. We think no better of the person hiding behind weasel words such as ‘mistakes were made’ and ‘lessons have been learned’, and the opportunity to make amends is lost.

Saying sorry should mean more than damage limitation. It can be an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive and boost a company’s reputation – and even sales. A genuine “I’m sorry, I got it wrong” followed by direct action to put matters right is more impressive than some of the frankly embarrassing attempts to spread blame we’ve seen recently. According to the Institute of Business Ethics on building and restoring organisational trust; “genuine apologies, if delivered sincerely, can be liberating, and powerful signals of renewed trustworthiness. Many would also see them as an impressive and competent PR response, too.”

Customer complaints are one area where it pays dividends for companies to say sorry quickly and effectively. Even the best businesses get complaints, but if you handle them right, you not only prevent customers – or supplies – from leaving, but even improve loyalty. People look for an apology, an explanation and reassurance that the mistake won’t happen again. If possible, let them know what measures you’ve taken to prevent that. Most people will forgive a mistake if they feel it’s been addressed seriously. Having a customer complaints procedure in place isn’t an admission of failure but a sensible insurance against the occasional slip-up.

Do you have a PR issue that needs dealing with sensitively? Talk to us and email Tom Rigby at tom@mra-marketing.com or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

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