No human being is perfect; people make mistakes. At the end of the day, companies are still run by people, and mistakes made by them can reflect poorly on your company, brand and reputation.
Perhaps it was human error or a case of bad judgment. Alternatively, a problem could be the result of greed or flat-out ignorance. Regardless of the reason, when your company makes a mistake, the public will want and need to hear from you. They’ll want answers. They’ll demand that you fix the problem, and they’ll expect you to do so immediately.
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It seems like there’s been a steady procession of CEOs delivering corporate apologies recently. Some CEOS get it right and are able to show everyone that they “get it” and are taking the necessary steps to fix the problem. Some CEOs get it wrong and their apology only makes matters worse. When this happens, the reputation a company has built over years can sometimes go down in flames overnight.
Apologies are never easy. But, there are some critical steps you can take to ensure you get it right. Here are seven things you should do if your company finds itself in a position where it needs to apologize to customers and the general public.
1. Get the right people with diverse perspectives at the table.
There is the court of law and the court of public opinion. Attorneys and public relations professionals may not always see eye to eye, but you need to have experts at the table who can provide the necessary guidance.
2. Move quickly; speed matters.
Don’t ignore the situation and hope it will go away — it won’t. While you’re hoping the noise will just die down, the name of your company could become a trending topic on Twitter and not in a positive way. Get out ahead of the news cycle with your side of the story.
3. Lose the corporate speak.
Before you write down or speak a single word, remember that you are speaking to fellow human beings. There is no “corporate” language option in Google Translate. So, if you speak like an “Inc.” or an “LLC” you will come across sounding like a disingenuous CEO who is only focused on the bottom line.
4. Be empathetic.
Some experts will tell you that saying “I’m sorry” is an admission of guilt. How can you issue a sincere apology without showing regret for what has happened? It is important that you recognize the harm that has been caused and communicate that the voices of the public are being heard.
5. Demonstrate that all hands are on deck to solve the problem.
State the facts about what you know and do not speculate. Tell your audience what you are doing to solve the problem and the steps you are taking to prevent it from happening again. Actions speak louder than words.
6. Provide ongoing updates.
If you are committed to solving the problem, you should be committed to providing timely updates as needed. A corporate apology is not a one and done moment. It’s the first step to ensuring the public that you are committed to making things better.
7. Deliver your message across all channels.
A written apology should be posted on your website and across all social media channels. A video message from the CEO can work even better, depending on whether your spokesperson is comfortable in front of the camera. Hearing a CEO express an apology versus reading it can help a company better connect with its audience on a human level.
When a CEO steps into the spotlight to deliver a corporate apology, the future of the company may be at stake. If the CEO acts appropriately, the company can weather the storm and bounce back. If the CEO comes across as non-transparent and insincere, he or she could become a meme and a punch line on a late-night TV talk show.
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