Effective Apologies

There is research to suggest that companies that fail to meet customer expectations, but perform service recovery effectively, can achieve higher satisfaction levels than companies that never failed to meet expectations in the first place.

It’s known as the service recovery paradox and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s a real phenomenon and an important consideration f or companies of any size. Still skeptical? Think of your own interactions as a customer. Have you ever had a poor service situation that was handled expertly? How was your impression of the company impacted after this situation? I thought so.

But, while the facetious among us might laughingly think that an effective service strategy would be to purposely disappoint and then effectively delight customers to achieve higher levels of ultimate satisfaction, few if any would want to take things to these extremes. And, of course, the reality is that it isn’t easy to master service recovery. We are, after all, dealing with human beings whose behaviors can be difficult to predict and certainly anything but consistent across time or between individuals.

It can be interesting – and instructive – though to learn from the apologies of others. And there have been a number of them lately. For example:

Netflix. Netflix “messed up” some months ago when they attempted to “stick it” to people who were still opting to receive movies via snail mail versus streaming them online. The backlash was swift and vicious. Netflix attempted to recover through multiple mea culpas, including this blog post from September 18, 2011. Unfortunately, their actions had hit a nerve if the tenor of the more than 27,000 follow-up comments to CEO and cofounder Reed Hastings’ posting are any indication. One might say that “hell hath no fury like a customer scorned.”

Bank of America. After almost casually announcing plans to institute a $5/month debit card fee late last year, BOA backed off on its plans in the face of a massive consumer revolt. Despite apologies and even though they had never actually implemented the fee, BOA took a PR hit that may be difficult to rebound from. In fact, credit unions around the country took advantage of the brouhaha by sponsoring a “Bank Transfer Day” – countless consumers moved en masse from banks to credit unions during the melee.

Susan G. Komen Foundation. The most recent and, some might say, vitriolic of the big business “oops” is arguably the Susan G. Komen Foundation whose announcement that it was defunding Planned Parenthood rose hackles around the country. Like BOA, they also backed off on their decision and a top official resigned in the aftermath of the public outcry. But also like BOA it is likely to take some time for them to recover from the situation.

What can we learn from these situations? Perhaps that the service recovery paradox isn’t such a paradox after all.

It may be true that “in the old days” when bad behaviors and subsequent apologies could be delivered one-on-one that effective service recovery could result in higher levels of loyalty and word-of-mouth than when never having offended in the first place. But, in today’s rapid-paced communication environment, fueled by ready access to social media tools that can broadcast consumer concerns before companies even know they exist, it seems like the safest route would be not to offend in the first place.

A tall order, no doubt, but you know what they say about having a great offense. And, if the worst happens through some misstep on the part of you or one of your employees, the best that you can do is:

  • Respond quickly and sincerely.
  • Stay above the fray.
  • Learn from the experience.

Be careful out there!

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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