Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Why is it that companies have such a hard time apologizing to customers? I mean, sure, when they get called out by the media the “sorry” comes flowing out of them like a faucet, but why should it take getting caught to fess up? Yes, I’m looking at you Microsoft Bing.

We shouldn’t always have to complain to companies about poor service or a problem on their end before they step in – especially if it’s a widespread problem that the company has full knowledge of. Why can’t you just get out in front of it, apologize for the problem and tell your customers what you are doing to fix it?

Netflix, surprisingly, is doing just that. I have been a member of their streaming only service for about 5 months. During that time I’ve received numerous emails asking me about the quality of a particular movie or TV show I recently watched. It was a simple non-intrusive message asking me to click the option that most represented my feelings about the overall quality of that particular experience.

In addition to those emails, I have received two others apologizing for technical issues with their service. On both of these occasions I was unaware there had even been an issue, but apparently the problem was widespread enough that Netflix thought it best to get out in front of it and take responsibility.

Not only are they taking full responsibility for a problem I wasn’t even aware of, but they are offering credit for the downtime. Sure, it’s 3% on an $8 a month plan, but still it’s the gesture that counts to most people.

I get that as Americans our society has some weird problem with apologies. I think that we feel like it makes us appear weak. It’s no surprise that sort of unapologetic invincibility has become a mainstay of our corporate culture. We need to get over that. There’s very little damage that can’t be undone to a customer relationship by simply and sincerely offering an apology – a simple “my bad.” Netflix clearly understands that. In fact, I have more brand loyalty to them now than before. It’s easy for a company to backslap and hi-five when things are going right, but it shows you the true soul of an organization when they have to react and address problems.

What do you think – does an apology show weakness or responsibility by a company? Are there other companies you do business with that approach service in the same way Netflix did in this case?

  • Anonymous

    Seems like in general younger/smaller companies understand that they can’t afford to alienate even one customer. I’m not a business expert but from my experience as a consumer I can say that “saying sorry” makes a difference, unless it happens all the time and frequently on the same issues….in which case it might be smarter to pretend nothing happened.

    I guess one step further would be to refine reporting/tracking service quality and and actually apologize only to the people who were affected.

    • Great point Joe. Saying sorry repeatedly for the same issue starts to ring hollow. Apologize once, fix it and move forward.

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