Sometimes, it feels like our world has turned into a giant game of tag. People and organizations are constantly pointing fingers to blame mistakes, gaffes and actions on someone else. The ink barely dry on headlines, and people are shouting, “Not it!” in an effort to get the spotlight off themselves.
- GM uncovers ignition flaws on their Cobalt years ago, but instead of fixing the problem at the time (too much money and time) or recalling the vehicles immediately (or even now, doing a full recall to ease public concern, they blame the drivers: “… the Cobalt and other recalled small cars were safe to drive as long as drivers used only a key and not a heavy key chain.” (WSJ)
- Retailer West Elm backorders my table by over 2 months without notifying me. When I email to complain after checking my order status, there is no apology or offer to rectify – it’s simply “the manufacturer’s fault.”
- An overnight dog boarding facility skips my dog’s dinner which I discover due to food being left over upon pick up. While they investigated the cause, the response? “We’re sure he was fed but it was probably another dog’s food.” Which is also not a good thing. No apology, no mea culpa, no offer to make it up to us, compensate us a free stay, etc.
- An intern fails to report status of the work she’s doing. When asked to correct this going forward and work on improving her communication skills, she responds with, “But it’s not my fault. You never asked for a status update.”
Is apology a dirty word? When did accountability go out of style? Whatever happened to “The situation is what it is, for whatever reason. How can we now make it right?”
When it comes to your brand, how you respond to crisis says more about you in a louder fashion than the thousand heroic acts you may do when things are going right.
Explanation is not a substitute for accountability. Make things right to protect your brand. (Tweet this!)
It may indeed be factual to blame someone or something else for why you’ve disappointed your audience, client, or customer. Traffic, lost shipments, sudden illness a personal emergency that distracts you. All valid, all believable, all true.
But that doesn’t give you or your brand a free pass to disappoint and go back on your word. I can’t even count how many virtual assistants or interns I tried to hire who had something interfere with doing what they said they were going to do, leaving me and my business hanging.
Responsibility is defined as: the state of being the person who caused something to happen. Accountability is defined as: the quality or state of being accountable, especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions
Simply put, you may not be responsible, but you need to be accountable.
Hey, I get it. Life happens. Believe me, I know this better than anyone. I was in the middle of a client project when I had a brain aneurysm. The firm under which I was subcontracted immediately sent in one of the principal partners to replace me so the client would not be left in the lurch.
I once gave an overseas client back a non-refundable deposit and lost money on the deal – after delivering all the work promised in the contract that she (allegedly) read and signed- simply because she abusively claimed it was not at all what she needed or asked for. English was her second language, so I think there may have been a major communication gap. But at the end of the day, in her mind, she did not get what she asked for and it was not worth it to me to argue with a crazy person. So I took a loss: I still had to pay my subcontractor who did her part. I wished the client well and told her to use the work we’d delivered if she wanted.
You can be creative. You can find solutions. You can ask for patience as you honor your commitments. You can offer an alternative or line up a replacement. Or like a dedicated writer I know, you can go a night without sleep to deliver what you said you would if someone is counting on you.
What can you do to make things right? What can you do to turn disappointment into delight? What can you say to make the person feel heard and appreciated? It’s not enough to say, “Well, this is why it happened. So deal with it.” It’s YOUR responsibility to turn the situation around as best you can.
Epilogue: After a tweet, West Elm told me to contact elevated support, the woman personally located a comparable item from a sister company, credited me back the difference and added a 15% discount on top of it all to boot. Nice. I told her my biggest frustration was the cavalier attitude conveyed in the initial email exchanges. True, I didn’t get this service level until I took to Twitter to complain (that should not be the case) but in the end, she turned around my negative experience. It was not “Judith’s” fault this happened. It was not even West Elm’s. But they are the face of the transaction and they (finally) took care of it. Nice.