Saying ‘Sorry’ Is Harder Than You Think
Apologizing is hard. I’m not talking about saying sorry to your partner for forgetting to take the trash out or apologizing to a friend for missing their birthday. I’m talking about brand apologies—things you say when your company screws up. It’s likely going to happen sooner or later, and that’s okay. But what’s not always okay is ignoring the issue or giving a half-hearted, disingenuous apology. Expressing your regret, taking responsibility and explaining how you will do better are key ingredients to making a genuine apology.
When Is an Apology Necessary?
Knowing when or when not to apologize is a hard-learned skill. As with most things in the communications world, it depends on the situation. But if you and your brand make an error that negatively impacts a group of people, oftentimes it’s best to own up to the mistake and apologize.
How to Make a Genuine Apology
For brands making public apologies, there’s a lot more to it than just saying “sorry.” Here are some tips to consider when apologizing:
1. Act Quickly
As soon as you know you need to apologize, do it right away. Don’t ignore the situation as this can cause added scrutiny and anger. Ideally, your company should have a communication plan for when crises occur.
2. Be Sincere
If your apology sounds too performative or overly scripted, you run the risk of your apology coming off as a “non-apology,” which can cause further backlash on your brand. To avoid this, make sure your apology is sincere. Imagine you’re apologizing to your friend—leave out the jargon and speak with simple words. Be human, not a robot. Most importantly, you must feel sorry about the mistake you or your brand has made.
3. Take Responsibility
Take full responsibility for the mistake. Be specific and explain exactly how the situation went down, then own up to it. Saying things like, “I’m sorry, but…” or “I’m sorry you feel that way…” isn’t apologizing, it’s making excuses.
4. Remedy the Situation
Not only is it essential to explain what happened, but it’s also crucial to reassure the public that whatever happened won’t happen again. Has your company discontinued the product? Are you introducing new policies in your workplace? Have you let go of that problematic employee or sent them for additional training? Whatever the issue is, plan out how you will fix it and communicate that plan with your audience.
Why Apologizing Is Important
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t make mistakes. But they happen, and apologizing for them is important. Here’s why:
Re-Building Your Client Relationship
Just as apologizing to a loved one can help rebuild your relationship with them, so can apologizing to your customers. When a brand makes a mistake that negatively impacts its customers or another group, they tarnish the trust they have worked so hard to build with the public. Apologizing for your wrongdoing and explaining how you will fix the problem can help build back that trust.
Changing Your Business For The Better
Making an apology is a humbling experience. It forces your business to consider how well you’ve been operating. If done right, it causes you to dig deep into the internal workings of your company and find ways to change it for the better.
Turning a Negative Event Into Something Positive
In some cases, companies have turned PR nightmares into brand success stories. Take KFC, for example. In 2018, the fried-chicken restaurant chain ran out of its most essential ingredient—chicken—in many of its UK locations. In response, KFC created print ads that rearranged the letters of their name to read “FCK.” In the ad, they explained their regret and apologized for the inconvenience their customers faced. “We’re sorry,” the headline read. “Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.” The media commended the ad for its humorous and gutsy response to an otherwise negative situation.
Customers appreciate a sincere apology. It shows how your company values accountability and transparency, which many customers value as well. Apologies can help repair your brand’s relationship with the public or improve your business’s internal operations. If done successfully, an apology may even become a positive experience for you and your brand.