Marcus' Blog

Sorry not Sorry

Businesses need to take responsibility for their actions, especially online and we see that a lot in social media community management.

Not good enough:

I’ll look into that
I’ll get back to you

We are sorry about your experience

Sympathy rarely helps a customer or makes them feel better about their situation. What can help though is empathy.

That must be frustrating, let’s get it fixed.

Being truly sorry usually means admitting you made a mistake, this can be a simple gesture with big impacts.

In 2007, JetBlue, an America low-cost airline frustrated thousands of customers with watered down information in regards to a flight cancellation. Instead of admitting a mistake, passengers were led to believe that their flights would be replaced, they weren’t. After stranding passengers on the tarmac, JetBlue had an interesting PR decision to make, who or what to blame? The weather? Air-traffic controllers? It takes a sense of humility and bravery to admit your mistakes which is why it’s so rare to see a company doing so. Thankfully, the JetBlue chose the latter, admitting it was an internal operational mistake that caused the issues. However, how can we know this is the right course of action?

Social scientist Fiona Lee and her colleagues suggest that organisations that attribute failures to internal issues not only come out in front when it comes to public relations but also profit line. In her research, Lee provided participants with annual reports for two fictitious companies. Both addressing issues, Company A blaming external factors for their poor performance and Company B admitting that they were at fault for the issues. Participants viewed Company A more positively on a number of different counts than Company B. The research didn’t stop there, Lee also compiled the annual reports for real-life companies and attributed the reports to internal responsibility and external blame. The data was then cross-referenced to real life profit margins and share performance, it turns out that taking responsibility is best for your business. Unfortunately, these actions are still a rarity.

Lines heard before from business owners:

It was our graphic designer’s faults
The restaurant manager didn’t set it up properly
They posted the wrong thing

Better lines:

It’s my fault, we didn’t give the designer all of the info.
We’re working with the restaurant manager now to sort this out
We screwed up, totally our mistake. Let’s talk.

So, if you have the choice of being upfront, admitting a mistake and moving on, I’d suggest you take it. And if it backfires, blame me, it was my suggestion after all.

Marcus Willis