Go Back

The Psychology of Apology: Tells Me Whys, Tell Me Sweet Little Whys

Posted by: Melinda Flores on February 18, 2010

When brands promise you an experience and then deny it without even telling you why — well, that’s flat out frustrating.

Let me put it this way. How would you feel about sitting down to a basket of sweet potato fries, a giant burger, and a pitcher of what you think is half-priced beer, only to find out that the Happy Hour special you came for is somehow unavailable?

This happened to me this Monday at one of my local haunts, where there’s ALWAYS a daily Happy Hour special.  When I asked why, the waiter shrugged his shoulders and said, “Just don’t have it today. Sorry.”

Well, that apology was not only unsastisfactory, it was unacceptable. So I sent the waiter off to ask his manager why. The reason they finally gave me? Monday was Presidents Day, and there’s no Happy Hour on holidays.

While I absolutely understood the reason, what bothered me was the initial lack of clarity about why I wasn’t getting what I thought I was going to get. But then, just when we were ready to hightail it out of there and never return, something amazing happened. The waiter talked to his manager again, apologized, and gave my friend and I the Happy Hour deal anyway. So next week I’ll be back for another burger, basket of fries, and a half-price Happy Hour pitcher of delicious beer.

The lesson here is that an apology, put in proper context and delivered with genuine sincerity, goes a long way to win back customer trust and loyalty. Think about the JetBlue debacle of 2007. The airline didn’t cancel flights during an ice storm and ended up completely out of commission, not just for the duration of storm but for several days after. But, to its credit, JetBlue immediately apologized and explained why. Its cost-effective but skimpy communications and reservations systems, coupled with the intense weather, couldn’t handle the onslaught. And people not only forgave, they forgot.

It seems Toyota is trying to apply this lesson. The company has been consistently apologetic about the sudden acceleration problems with the Prius and now the power steering problems with the Corolla, explaining that sudden shifts in production due to the volatility of the automobile industry may be the reason for these malfunctions. While some recent reports indicate this might not be the case — some say Toyota’s known about both issues for years — I do appreciate an explanation. It’s certainly the first step to getting back in the good books.

Unless, of course, Toyota wants to buy me a beer. I know a great little burger joint, actually, with a killer Happy Hour special…




Related Posts


HP launches game-changing cloud offering, HP Helion
The art of storytelling: Designing poetic brands
The Mobile Name Game: A Closer Look at the MWC
Lingo and One-Liners from Liquor Leaders