For Company CEOs, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

There have been many unfortunate situations in the news lately where company CEOs struggle to apologize for poor customer service. In this age of viral videos and instantaneous postings, a company can find itself in hot water just moments after such an occurrence. An organization that has already built a solid reputation (including excellent customer service) might be able to weather the storm better than others that are not as focused on the customer. This is just one of many reasons why protecting your company’s brand and image is an ongoing process.

Every company, large and small, faces a potentially negative situation when they’ve made a mistake. This is not the time to get defensive. Take the lead, get the facts, resolve the situation as quickly as possible, and communicate. It’s the “communication” part that can be tricky. However, this is as important as fixing the problem. No one likes to admit they’ve made a mistake but when companies get it wrong, the best remedy is to sincerely apologize.

One of the best ways to avoid a negative customer situation is to have proactive customer relations policies in place that reinforce the age-old concept of the customer always being right. Just be sure that such policies are shared with all employees so they know how to handle situations and are given the authority to fix problems on the front line.

When an issue does erupt and you must publicly deal with it, here are a few tips from a public relations perspective:

  • Get your facts together. No blame game. Just the facts. If your company messed up, be prepared to take responsibility. If warranted, discuss the issue with your attorney and public relations person. Legal and PR representatives should work together to formulate the best responses for your company.
  • Write an apology statement as quickly as possible. It should be short, to the point, and authentic. Don’t add in technical jargon or euphemisms or suggest blame be placed elsewhere. Take the hit, say you’re sorry, and pledge to fix it.
  • Be prepared for negativity as a response. But over time, correcting the situation, and continuing to do the right thing will help the company get through the difficult period.
  • Learn from the situation. Identify areas to improve. Should customer-facing employees be given more flexibility in responding to issues? Is there an operations issue that is causing customer problems? If so, make the change, educate employees, and improve the customer experience.

Issues management is a tricky business. Be prepared to say you’re sorry – it’s a hard word to say but it’s the first step in attempting to resolve the situation and get your reputation back on track.