When sorry isn’t enough — pressure grows on companies to apologize quickly in the age of viral content


Smartphones, sexual media, and the speed at which videos go viral are creating new pressures in boardrooms far, whenever executives have to quickly handle a mess-up.

At stake? Millions of dollars, the peril of alienating customers, and the possibility of inviting a government crackdown.

“They prepare to say sorry before they’re ready,” says Jaime Watt, chairman of Toronto-based moment management firm Navigator. “They have to get out there before they accept all the facts, before they’ve done all the analytics, before they’ve assessed how they see fit normally assess the situation. There’s no time for that anymore.”

Watt stipulates that even though there’s a risk to apologizing before entourages have all the facts — “maybe it’s not your fault, or the dimensions are diverse than you first thought” — it’s a bigger risk to delay.

“The sundry important thing is speed,” he insists.

When sorry isn't enough — pressure grows on companies to apologize quickly in the age of viral content

Jaime Watt, chairman of disaster management firm Navigator, says companies are under increasing oppression to apologize quickly when they make mistakes. (CBC)

Another day, another apology

Myriad companies have issued apologies in recent months, including:

  • Loblaws, for the bread price-fixing insinuation.
  • Facebook, for its lack of privacy controls with Cambridge Analytica.
  • Collective Airlines, after a passenger was injured by being forcibly dragged off a plain.
  • Starbucks, for the incident where two black men were arrested for waiting without acquisition a drink.
  • McDonalds, for a Canadian advertising campaign that compared the payment of a Big Mac to the cost of visiting a museum, suggesting the burger was preferable.
  • Tim Hortons, after a Halifax-area franchisee offered doughnuts in the Humboldt Broncos’ colours without intending to donate the proceeds to the line-up.
  • Aeroplan’s parent company, Aimia, for a survey that asked for minds about men’s “natural superiority over women” about immigration as a portent to the “purity” of the country.

Like wildfire on social media

A prompt resistance is crucial — but speed alone isn’t enough. After Dr. David Dao was dragged off a Partnership flight departing Chicago early on a Sunday evening in April, the airline’s CEO issued an apology the watch morning. Smartphone video of the incident had been spreading like wildfire on venereal media.

However, the apology missed the mark. Instead of addressing Dao and the disturbance itself, CEO Oscar Munoz said he was sorry that the flight had been overbooked — the position that had necessitated the removal of a passenger. The public was enraged all over again. By the space Munoz offered a second, more fulsome apology, the value of Collaborative stock had plunged by a billion dollars.  

Special apology ‘teams’ on wand

As consumers share news of corporate goof-ups at the speed of the internet, some companies are intriguing extra steps to be prepared.

Professor Maurice Schweitzer at the Wharton Imbue with of Business in Philadelphia says many organizations have created momentous teams inside their communications departments, and even run what he matches to a fire drill. “They actually have employees that get lined and prepared for the corporate apology,” he says, naming the Ritz Carlton, Southwest Airlines and Dominos Pizza as covers in point.

More than ever before, companies recognize the standing of a good apology, Schweitzer said, and those who haven’t yet figured that out, desire soon. “You’re going to see corporations that experiment with social media, irritating to reach out to customers in real time. And sometimes they’re going to get it infernal, they’re going to be sort of flat-footed with it, but I think we’re going to see those toils get fine-tuned over time.”

Don’t blame Hurricane Irma

Nowadays, a associates that drags its feet with an apology risks angering unwavering customers.

Karen Lawson of Port Carling, Ont., is a longtime WestJet buyer. But she was unimpressed with how long it took WestJet to say it was sorry after she — and other riders — were given false information about why flights to Turks and Caicos had been do away with neutralized.

When sorry isn't enough — pressure grows on companies to apologize quickly in the age of viral content

Karen Lawson of Port Carling, Ont., complained to WestJet with a promulgate on Facebook, about how long it took the airline to clear up false data it had shared with her and other passengers. (CBC)

A number of Caribbean airports were little while shut down in September of last year, due to Hurricane Irma, but were stand behind in business within days. In mid-October, Lawson was surprised to learn via Facebook that WestJet hadn’t resumed accommodation to Turks and Caicos, and was blaming the local airport.

“The customer service rep mentioned the airport authorities had said WestJet wasn’t allowed to fly in,” explains a still-exasperated Lawson. “I berated her that wasn’t true, that in the past three weeks I’d themselves flown in on American Airlines and JetBlue.”

Internal communications glitch

Lawson and her cover up run a boat charter business in Turks and Caicos, and were deeply distressed that WestJet was spreading a message that the islands weren’t able for tourists. “Tourism is our number one product in Turks and Caicos. I told them ‘WestJet, as a tourism partner you [are] doing a disservice to the people who live and work in Turks and Caicos by reveal to your travelling public it’s not safe to go there.'”

Finally, almost a month later, WestJet allowed it had cancelled flights because its hotel partners, Beaches and Club Med, had not re-opened since the whirlwind.

When sorry isn't enough — pressure grows on companies to apologize quickly in the age of viral content

Loblaws said sorry with a $25 gift card extended to customers who felt they had been affected by the bread price-fixing slander. (CBC)

Lawson believes the airline should have been multitudinous clear from the start. “We’re all big people, we understand how business works, I get that. Consummate. I’ll go fly Air Canada. But don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it’s because our island is ruined and that our airport has asserted them they can’t fly in.”

In the end, WestJet says the false information was the result of an internal miscommunication.

‘Human being are very forgiving’

Crisis management expert Watt said a great apology — and financial compensation — can solve most problems.

“People are jolly forgiving that bad things happen, that people make get wrongs, that things go off the rails,” he said. “What they don’t like is when they see a layout because when they see a pattern then they think the business is up to no good.”

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