Monday, October 14, 2013

The Art of The Apology

How hard is it to say "I'm sorry"?

From my experience on being on the receiving end of a lacuna, it's extremely hard.

I started a new initiative in our business a few months ago. In an effort to better communicate our shift from being a product based company to a "customer experience" company, we began an initiative to move our standard product catalogues into a lifestyle magazine.

An initiative started several months ago has proven to be one of the most fun projects to work on. It drove collaboration and creativity within the company and really forced "the creatives" to think outside our traditional comfort zones and analyse deeply what experiences our customers value most during and after using our products (as opposed to their thoughts on the products themselves).

So after months of hard and detailed work, we had the final draft and sent it for printing ... and what a disappointment! When we received the finished result, a bunch of rushed excitedly to the conference room to see what the printer had delivered, but his sheer carelessness (there's a separate lesson for blindly going with the lowest bidder) ensured our pet project was undistributable.

What should have been our pride and joy. What should have come out as a bright, glossy, vivid magazine came out as dull and drab. The colours were off, the printing misaligned, and overall, it was an immense disappointment.

However, most disappointing of all, was the reaction of the printer. His initial response was to dismiss the errors we immediately found as a "one off". To challenge that, we tore through all the boxes and looked at numerous copies. Each one had fatal flaws ... yet the printer continued to defend his work.

As disappointing as the poor end result was, I was ready to be tolerant and accept that mistakes happen. All this printer had to do was accept and acknowledge his mistake, apologise, and agree that his responsibility was to remedy this. Unfortunately, getting an acknowledgment out of this guy (let alone an apology) was harder than squeezing blood from a stone.

Ultimately, he was forced to accept and will now be reprinting the whole batch at his cost, but due to his exceptionally poor attitude, he has lost us as a customer, and with that, any chance to regain the losses incurred from this job with future business.

I know that emotions and egos play a role in all of this, but on a strictly business matter, I am continuously baffled at how few companies actually take advantage of the chance to apologise and show their professionalism in pro-actively finding a solution for a problem caused. On the flip side, on the rare occasion that a company or company representative does do this, it usually impresses so much that they gain additional loyalty from me (despite the screw up).

It's a shame (or perhaps just a continuing opportunity for those who do this right) that more companies don't "man up" when they do something wrong and then deal with it and fix it effectively. In my experience, the worst that can happen ... an upset client yells for a while, but then HAS TO calm down as once you acknowledge the error, what more can he / she do?

Maybe (or maybe not), this printer has now learned a lesson, but in the meantime; good printing companies, please apply here if you want our business ... there's a vacancy!