Too good at apologizing

I had an office next to another account executive early in my advertising/pr career and could overhear his client conversations.  At first I was impressed by his amazing ability to soothe clients’ anger over things that weren’t going well.

After I while, I realized he was SO good at apologizing and “fixing” problems because he didn’t prevent the problems in the first place.  He missed deadlines, didn’t proof carefully and when clients complained, he apologized so well they were practically thanking him for the mistakes.

Much later, I worked with a woman who was terrific at putting out fires.  She loved a good crises.  So much so that she created the crisis by not starting the jobs on time, getting the copywriter info he needed or delivering ads to magazine by deadline.  She also gave “great apology.”

I just got off the phone with a bank’s “customer service” rep who also gave great apology and some complicated explanation for how the bank managed to cash a check written for $4600 for $46.00.  The apology sounded sincere and I’ve talked to a lot of people at this bank who all seem really, really nice.  But, looking back on the conversations, it seems they’re too good at apologizing.   In this case, I suspect the bank’s processes and procedures block good service.  The web site doesn’t recognize the right security answers, online support has such long wait times that they call you back, and the branch associates can’t look things up immediately; they have to go to some “back room” research or something strange.

My point?  You won’t get so good at apologizing if you do the job right the first time.  Have a web site that works.  Have policies that allow you to access account information.  Get the creative brief to the copy writer on time.

Now, I believe strongly in apologizing and owning up to mistakes.  In PR, appropriate apologies go a long way to resolving problems and restoring brand image.  .

And, I’m certainly not perfect.  I make mistakes.  (I’m just grateful that I don’t have to literally bury my mistakes, as my nursing friends say they have to, or pay financial penalties like CPAs do). I apologize for my mistakes and sometimes for other people’s mistakes.  I’m a big believer in accountability.

I’m just saying that if people and companies did the right thing the first time, they wouldn’t need to apologize so much.  Beware of those who are too good at apologizing and fixing things.