I received an email yesterday morning from a company who I had a reasonable amount of respect for. Unfortunately, the subject line and content of the email seemed to be jumping on the news of the death of Steve Jobs and using this as a means of selling more items. So I shrugged, shook my head at what would no doubt be the first of many such emails and carried on with my day – my respect for this company somewhat diminished due to the nature of this email. (Whatever you might think of Steve Jobs, using anyone’s death as a way to make sales should only be expected of insurance salesmen and funeral directors.)
However, later on in the day, I received another email from the company. This one had a subject line which read “Our sincerest apologies” and the email was ‘signed’ by the company’s top dog. The email went on to apologise profusely, to explain that the email, subject line and all, had been written long before the news of Steve Jobs death and had, in fact, been a follow up email to a campaign launched many months before. It explained that the CEO had been inspired by Steve Jobs and that they would never hope to use his death (or anyone elses) as a means to promote a product.
I don’t know when the moment of realisation came. Perhaps others had emailed the company to express their disgust at the original email. Perhaps the CEO receives the company’s own emails and on reading this one was shocked himself. Either way, on this occasion I happen to believe that the original email was not intentionally designed and sent as a result of Steve Jobs death.
My opinion of the company after the second email? The same respect as before, had my faith been restored? Still somewhat diminished respect for a company that could make such a mistake? Neither, more respect – for a company that is willing to make a heartfelt apology when they have inadvertently done something which they feel to be morally objectionable. I’m sure others will feel the same way.
I can also tell you (from personal experience at several different companies) that from a business point of view it really makes sense to end these apology emails. Even if you end up apologising to people who weren’t offended in the first place or who hadn’t even seen the original message – it’s worthwhile because it shows a certain integrity which brushing things under the carpet does not have. These emails also, in my experience, often have better open rates than the original email for which you are apologising – perhaps sorry is so rare these days that an honest one really is an event in someone’s inbox.
I have however seen companies abuse ‘sorry’ just as they abuse other words in their subject lines (‘free’, ‘special offer’, ‘limited time’). Don’t say sorry unless you are sorry and, obviously, try and not make the kind of mistakes you need to apologise for. But when you do make a mistake, own up to it, apologise and then put things in place such that you don’t have to apologise for something similar again. </Jerry Springer Mode>
P.S. Has anyone carried out analysis on the correlation between the age of a blog (or blogger) and the likelihood of any post title being a song lyric?