What Does It Cost to Say I’m Sorry?

Posted by: in Communication Strategy, Customer Experience, Integrated Communications, Pre-Commerce, Public Relations Practice, Social Media Insights & Trends, Thinking Creatively on June 13, 2012

As a rule of thumb, I try not to ever use social media to bash a brand. It’s just not productive and who knows, one day I may end up pitching that company for business. Once in a while I may publicly express frustration with a brand — not in the hopes that I’ll get something from them —  but to either warn friends or to let a company know that they have messed up. Unfortunately, last night one of those opportunities cropped up at the tail end of my flight from Austin to San Francisco.

By way of background, I find myself flying more and more with U.S. Airways. In the past, I’ve been somewhat ambivalent toward them. They were good, not great. They didn’t have wifi or television. No blue potato chips and their flights from Austin to Phoenix (the stopover on the way to SFO) are small and cramped. But with all that said, U.S. Airways continues to be reasonably priced and are pretty reliable. The staff is more friendly than not and in places like Charlotte, NC, they have significantly updated their terminals.

Back to last night. I was on the second leg of my flight from Austin to San Francisco (with a stop over in Phoenix). Because the flight was fairly full between Phoenix and San Francisco — and because I was trying to get every last bit of charge back in my laptop battery — I ended up being one of the last passengers on the plane. As a result, had to gate check my bag which normally is no big deal. Except that at SFO, it means that instead of picking your bag up just outside of the plane, you have to go to baggage claim and wait along with everyone else that has checked luggage. And for some reason, last night was not a good night for SFO and US Airways baggage and they only had one baggage claim belt working for four simultaneous incoming flights. So instead of being in a cab 15 minutes after deplaning, it took me closer to an hour. When it’s 11:00 PM PT at night (1:00 AM for my body since I woke up in CT) and an impending 5:30 AM wake up call coming, the last thing I wanted to do was mess around at the airport.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity my bag finally arrived. Tired and aggravated, I tweeted “Hey @USAirways, thanks a bunch for making me wait 40 minutes for my CARRY ON bag. That’s why I don’t check luggage. ‪#gatecheckfail‬” To be honest, I really didn’t expect any response from U.S. Airways. Boy was I surprised (and grateful) when I woke up this morning to the following tweet, “@AaronStrout Sorry about that Aaron. We know your time is valuable and will forward your feedback to our baggage team. ^SV”.

After mulling over this a bit, I couldn’t resist writing a post for two reasons:

  • I was VERY appreciative of U.S. Airways response, especially given the fact that it was personalized and empathetic.
  • I felt like this was a great lesson to share with other brands; namely that a “sorry” can sometimes go a long way. And guess what, it doesn’t cost anything.

Now I realize that not everyone sees the world the way I do. And that there are probably a lot of folks out there that complain to companies via social media in hopes of getting something in return. But I guarantee that there are an equal number of good people out there that just feel frustrated and being acknowledged by the brand in a meaningful way can go a long way to not only bring about forgiveness but also increase an emotional connection to the brand.

What’s your story? Have you ever had a brand tell you they are sorry? Did it help? Feel free to share in the comments below.

By: Aaron Strout

Aaron is the President of WCG, one of the three agencies under the W2O Group umbrella. He is a regular contributor to Marketing Land and a co-host of video podcast, Live from Stubbs.

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10 Responses

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  1. Hi Aaron and thanks for sharing your story. I find it interesting that people should feel so amazed at simply getting a response via Twitter. If you called them or wrote to them via email etc.. would you be surprised if they answered the phone or replied via email.. I would hope not.

    It is an expectation of reasonable customer care to answer such things. So why are people so amazed when a business replies via Twitter?

    Times have changed. We no longer have to go where businesses are to talk to them. Instead we can message them, talk about them, highlight them, complain to them via Twitter and its up to them whether or not they choose to engage with us. But I would suggest that they do.

    The result for businesses by simply engaging usually gets the sort of response from your experience. You are amazed, then start telling people, then write a blog, all because they seemed to care. This should be the norm, nothing new that they reply back and in time I would sincerely hope that this is the case.
    Some of your other comments are right.. A business just saying sorry sorry is a start, but much more should and could be done.


    Mark Shaw
    CEO EngagementIndex

  2. Anonymous said

    It is sad that we are amazed but I think it speaks to companies current state when it comes to their efforts in acknowledging social channels as part of their customer service strategy.

  3. Aaron – great post and reminder of the power of etiquette. People appreciate a repsonse and an “I’m Sorry” when they feel wronged. I find that when I use SM to verbalize a peeve or a “poor display of service” I also am quick to tweet or Facebook an “atta boy to any company who did their best to “make it right” on my previous issue. McDonalds, AT&T and Marriott have all be very good at listening to the stream for opportunities to help.

  4. Aaron Strout said

    100% with you Sean!

  5. I’ll venture a guess that if someone with 150 followers had said what you did, they may not have gotten the same answer. It’s a lot more dangerous for these brands to start getting negative feedback from people with 20+ thousand followers with Re-Tweet power, than it is from a person with less that 200.

    On the other hand, it is nice when they apologize for something you’ve called them out on. I had an issue with a home renovation store a month ago and mentioned it on Twitter. They DM’d me that they wanted to fix it, so I went through the channels. 6 emails and 7 days later, I was told that there was nothing they could do….that was worse than if they had just said sorry and moved on.

    In the end, I think brands are starting to understand the power of Twitter and other social media avenues and they’ve begun addressing it appropriately. Some of them at least.

    Great Post Aaron!

  6. Aaron Strout said

    Let me start with the “thank you.”

    Surprisingly (because I wondered this myself), the last 10-15 people that @usairways responded/apologized to had between 1-3,000 followers. Many of which were in the hundreds not thousands of followers. This made me happy because I would prefer to not ever be treated differently because of my number of followers. And while I understand that sometimes companies need to prioritize, I’m much more impressed when companies are egalitarian vs. hierarchical in their approach toward customer service.

  7. Jennifer said

    I had an incident in June 2011 with Expedia. They somehow cancelled the return portion of my flight, which I found out when I arrived at the airport to check in. Stranded at the airport in a country I didn’t even live in with no prospect of getting on another plane for 2 days, I tweeted Expedia after several unhelpful calls to their customer service line. Shockingly I actually got a response and a prompt phone call.

    Ironically, after continuing to be an Expedia customer after not satisfactorily being compensated for the inconvenience their computer error caused, I experienced a similar situation with the return portion of my flight last month. I tweeted Expedia again and this time I’m still awaiting a response over 30 days later.

  8. Anonymous said

    Sounds like maybe it’s time to cut bait with Expedia. 😉

  9. Totally agree with you Aaron! I’ve been on both sides of this equation, and I’ve found that angry customers can become your best advocates if you react with empathy, sincerity, and humility.

    Too many companies preach the “customer is always right” approach to their employees but don’t actually allow them to make the customer feel good about their negative experiences.

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