CX Basics series – Sorry!

Part Two - Brand apologies that inspire loyalty

Brands that fail to say sorry, lose business. Brands that say sorry late and haltingly, lose advocacy. The Americans have a great saying that covers this, “A day late and a dollar short”.

Brands that say sorry sincerely, increase both custom and advocacy. The challenge isn’t how to say sorry without admitting fault, like some PR consultants would recommend, but saying sorry in a way that identifies a human mistake. Some leaders have instilled this transparency into their business strategy, whilst others juggle apologies like hot potatoes. Apologising well can actually inject something unique into the customer experience, something human.

KFC took the corporate apology to new heights this year. The fast-food chain took out a full-page ad in the Sun and Metro newspapers to apologise for shutting down hundreds of restaurants due to an embarrassing shortage of chickens. The bright red advert displayed an empty bucket with the chain's famous branded initials in the wrong order, simply reading "FCK" alongside a hard-hitting apology. The brilliance of this was that it was an apology that reinforced the brand.

It was marketing gold. Commentators came out to praise the company for their bold response to a supplier disaster. Influencers, including Mark Ritson, commended their blunt approach, which was as hilarious as it was honest. The positive social media aftermath that came from the apology was arguably more effective than their typical marketing campaign.

So why don’t brands do this more often? When parcels go missing, holidays get ruined or cars fail vital omissions tests, why do some companies become robots devoid of empathy? In some cases it is the internal corporate legal team who fear getting sued. In other cases it’s the ego of the CEO and directorate that gets in the way of that one important word. Panicked questions begin to fill meeting rooms…

How will an apology look to the investors? What message will it send to our competition? Isn’t saying sorry an act of weakness?

These questions often delay and sometimes nullify an apology from the brand to the customer altogether. These questions should be binned and replaced with just one:

Have we got it wrong?

If the answer is yes, then two processes need to be launched immediately:

1) An apology that comes from the heart of the brand, not the ego.
2) A commitment to right whatever wrong has occurred.

Comcast coined a great way for dealing with customer complaints a few years ago:

- Listen up
- ‘Fess up
- Pay up

On the surface, a chicken eatery running out of chicken is a PR nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be. With a dash of creativity, a gloves-off apology and a commitment to do better, KFC showed brands exactly how to be human in a moment of error. This translates wonderfully to the consumer. When customers chat about the mistake, the hilarity and aptness of the apology will trump the failure itself. This is reactive communications cooked perfectly.

And what a refreshing communication it was, amongst an age awash with weasel words and legal speak. When corporate rhetoric is as predictable as ever, it will be those companies who take the art of apologising seriously that will inevitably see serious gains.

Well done KFC, a clucking great effort!

|2018-05-14T10:55:02+00:00Apr 19 2018|Blog|

About the Author

Over the last 15 years, Shaun has defined much of the thinking and methodology around customer experience. He continues to speak, write, consult and provokeFind out more

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