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Say sorry!



Should an organisation apologise if it has made a mistake?

Zarin Bhathena

An apology is always deemed as an answer for something contemptible and carries a stigma with it. Be it an individual, group or organisation, saying sorry comes with certain reluctance. Let’s face it – none of us say sorry without pausing or hesitating for a moment. To answer the question of whether a company should formally apologise for a mistake, let us first look at why it is difficult to do so.

When it comes to an organisation, the hesitation that comes with the apology multiplies manifold for many reasons. Firstly, often the mistake is made because of or by an individual employee or a department. Hence, making the head, spokesperson or the organisation apologise seems unfair. However, since a position comes with its own hazards, the leader of the company must bear the brunt in public. Secondly, a public apology runs the risk of letting a lot of people (who did not know earlier) become aware of the mistake made. Thirdly, sometimes the error is truly small and can be overlooked, but it gets magnified on the rebound when there is public outcry after the apology. Apart from these reasons, there is always a battle of questions around the apology – the who, why, what, when, where and how.

In the earlier days, the question of whether to apologise or not could have run into an endless debate, but today it is inevitable. We live in an age where people get their latest news from social media and not TV channels, public opinion is vociferous and broadcasted and mistakes cannot be brushed under the carpet. Thousands of products are recalled for minor defects and heads roll when major errors are ‘discovered’.

A company can no longer afford to look the other way when it comes to apologising, be it to a single customer or the public. One often comes across instances where a disgruntled customer posts on social media about his terrible experience with customer care executives and other officials of a company. This snowballs as others clamour for an apology on the customer’s behalf and demand compensation from the erring company.

A smart company should know or learn how to handle mistakes and subsequent apologies with tact, not revealing too much and still correcting its course. Deciding who takes up the gauntlet of facing the customer or public is important. Also, a company must consider various reactions to the apology and be prepared for it. For companies that deal with customers directly, the easiest thing to do is go a little out of the way and provide the customer with a special experience or, in other words, delight him. This transforms the unsatisfied customer into an ambassador of sorts who speaks well of the organisation’s service.

Whatever be the matter, a well-thought out approach and execution plan goes a long way in helping companies go from bad to good in the minds of consumers. This helps the organisation achieve a higher brand stature as well as be perceived as a good employer and company, pleasing employees, customers and stakeholders alike.

- The author is senior VP and head-HR, Worldline India

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