As it turns out, my grade school teachers imparted to me much more than a solid academic footing and a love for the School House Rock video series. They also taught me a lesson in brand management and crisis communications. Specifically, the importance of following your apology with actions that actually show you’re sorry.
A couple of high-profile brands found themselves in the unenviable position of needing to apologize recently. One mea culpa was carried out with humility and corrective action. The other only threw gasoline on the fire.
When JCPenney was slammed for selling an offensive t-shirt to young girls, it responded quickly and effectively. They admitted their wrong, and removed the shirt. It didn’t completely assuage the anger of moms and the general public that was aware of it, but their prompt response – followed by prompt action – likely spared them further brand damage.
Contrast that with the incredibly tone-deaf communication earlier this week by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. In a blog post, Hastings issued a forced apology to customers upset over service changes and price increases. But rather than follow that up with corrective action (i.e. a suspension of the price hike, a limited discount, anything), Hastings announced a plan that gave customers something new to be mad about: They’re completely rebranding the mail-service portion of their business under the name “Qwikster,” and forcing customers to create a new account on a new website with for all intents and purposes a new company. What was once one of the most convenient ways to enjoy movies has become a confusing mess. Oh, and the price increases will remain in place.
Hastings’s apology lacked a discernible degree of humility, even though he took great pains to try to convey it throughout the post. The implication that readers should somehow feel sorry for him was especially galling. (“I know [the Qwikster] logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard.” C’mon.)
As a result, many customers now feel Netflix/Qwikster no longer has their best interest at heart. And that’s the takeaway from these two examples, or from your kindergarten class, if you prefer. People want relationships in which they feel some degree of reciprocal respect. That includes the relationship with a brand. The public can be remarkably forgiving after a slip-up, but only if your brand demonstrates a sincere willingness to correct the situation.