The Power of “I’m Sorry”
I recently made a purchase from an online clothing retailer. I selected the free two-day shipping option, but on the day my package was due to arrive, I checked the tracking number and discovered it wasn’t on my doorstep. It wasn’t even in my state. In fact, it was days away from delivery.
When I emailed the company to inquire about the shipping issue, I expected to get a short response that shifted blame to a third party. That is, if I got a response at all.
I was pleasantly surprised when an email landed in my inbox just a few minutes after my initial message. It was filled with phrases like, “This is our bad,” “We hope our mistake didn’t mess up your weekend too much,” “Apologies and sad faces,” and, most importantly, “We are sorry.”
It was refreshing to hear a company own up to its mistakes. Often, a company thinks a good strategy when something goes wrong is to shift blame or try to skirt around difficult conversations and issues. This strategy often creates resentment. But in the eyes of customers, “We are sorry” buys a whole lot of goodwill. I know it did in my case. The $40 store credit didn’t hurt either.
“There are costs to apology, but stonewalling also imposes costs,” says author and lecturer John Kador in his book, Effective Apology—Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust. “Our institutions and relationships suffer when we lie or try to limit our responsibility instead of cleaning up the mess we made. The first lesson … is that the costs of apology are never as dear as the costs of lying, denial, and defensiveness.”
Public relations is all about building relationships between organizations and their key publics. When something goes wrong an apology, an apology without qualification or excuse, can go a long way.