Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


No not in that way...

While this blog does often talk about the elusive nature and meaning of words and it sometimes plays with them, I am not going to talk about the meaning of "inconceivable". Rather, what I find to be inconceivable is that so many people do not understand the meaning of the word "sorry".... hmmmmm, no that's not it. I do think they understand it, I just don't believe that they grasp what it means to actually mean it.

So many people use it as an attempt to claim compassion or empathy. While in reality what they actually mean is that they are uncomfortable with the current situation and either:
  • don't know what to say
  • want your absolution of any wrong-doing
  • want to be acknowledged as permitted to end the current portion of the conversation
While I find myself on the "being sorry" end of the first example when confronted with someone else's tragedy, I more frequently find myself on the other end in business contexts - which strangely enough also leaves me as "being sorry" - as in a sorry state of affairs.

In business contexts - a retail or service employee will say "I'm sorry" or "I apologize" or something else with a similar supposed meaning. What I find offensive is that they believe I should accept it at it's face value when they are un-willing to back up said sorrow with any action or any actual attempt to make amends. The lack of any willingness to make amends robs the supposed empathy of any sincerity or meaning.

Professed empathy without sincerity makes "sorry" a platitude - a trite remark uttered as if it has actual meaning.

The crux of the matter is this - If a service employee says "I'm sorry" in the above fashion without any actual sincerity but as a means to end a topic of contention, then they are essentially assuming:
  • that I should believe that they actually have empathy for me
  • that saying "I'm sorry" is sufficient to make amends
  • that I should belive that saying "I'm sorry" is sufficient to make amends
And while a small apology is appropriate in small circumstances, many organizations use it as if it were an panacea to any deficiency in any product or service. Stop insulting the intelligence of customers and consumers. If you are going to express remorse, empower people to back it up with an attempt to make amends - It doesn't have to be a grand gesture, It just has to demonstrate some level of sincerity. This sincerity is what will lead to authentic brand relationships and brand loyalty. A great example of a sincere apology is flickr's coloring contest - The site went down for a brief period of time and as a sincere apology to its users, flickr made a simple coloring contest and gave away a "pro" account. The cool thing here is that flickr goofed and in its sincere apology capitalized on goof in a way to strengthen their brand, user loyalty and raise their awareness profile!

Why? Because in the world of falseness - people crave authenticity! Smart customers don't judge the character of your company when things go right, they judge it by your conduct when things go wrong.

Insincere platitudes - crap.
Authentic responses - like them.