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The Power of Apologies

Anyone who has followed my posts on apologies will know how important I feel they are as a way to manage reputation in a crisis. (Forgive the self-reference, but two of the most recent posts can be found here and here.)

A colleague in my firm's Seattle office, Drew Arnold, sent me an article from the Oregon Business Journal referencing a June 2009 discussion paper called 'The Power of Apology' from the University of Nottingham's Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics.

Here is the paper's abstract:

After an unsatisfactory purchase, many firms are quick to apologize to customers. It is, however, not clear why they should do that. As the apology is costless, it should be regarded as cheap talk and thus ignored by the customer. In this paper, we test in a controlled field experiment whether apologizing influences customers' subsequent behaviour. We find that apologizing yields much better outcomes for the firm than offering monetary compensation."

Based on a study of customers using eBay in Germany, the study found among other results:

  1. "Customers who receive an apology instead of a monetary compensation are more than twice as likely to withdraw a (negative) evaluation."
  2. "When money is offered, a higher purchase price makes it less likely that a customer withdraws his (negative) evaluation. An apology works independent of the level of the purchase price."

Why then can't we assume that the propensity to consider legal action when harm has been caused by an accidental event, even if negligence is involved, just might be mitigated by a genuine (and the key here is the word 'genuine') apology?

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