Can you Forgive a Brand for Lack of Empathy?

Years ago, I wrote a few posts about horrific customer experiences, especially one with a certain hot Internet retail brand. As I put on the one item I bought from them today, I reflected on whether I would actually forgive them for showing such a lack of empathy. I mean, it’s been years, right?

It got me thinking: 

When is it time to forgive a brand for a bad customer experience?

Is there ever a time for a second chance, when you have felt disrespected or unseen?

And how does this apply to us personally? Can we ever give a second chance to someone who has been unempathetic, whether they realized it or not? A friend, a colleague, a boss. And if so, how do we know when it’s time?

I do believe companies (and people) can learn from their mistakes and try to do better. See: Uber.

But I also know that, when it comes to customer loyalty,  in this day and age, we have options. Especially if the company in question saw nothing wrong with their behavior and never tried to make things right. There is a difference between how classy brands own up to their mistakes (well done, Alaska Airlines) and how others simply blame and complain.

Interestingly, I found this study that shows that when businesses humanize their leaders, like when you don’t see your local catering company as Acme Catering, but as Sue, Bob, and Joe who OWN Acme Catering, customers are more apt to forgive them for missteps.

Companies pay a very high price when customers feel disrespected, unseen, or even blamed. One negative customer experience can be a brand’s undoing. 

And if you want a masterclass in what a string of negative user and employee experiences can do to a company, see Twitter (now X). That platform seems to be a ghost town these days, with most people fleeing to Threads.

How can a brand bounce back from bad customer experiences? Well a few things need to happen

Accountability: Did the person involved or the brand itself own up to their mistakes, apologize, and transparently explain how things went wrong? Note: Simply throwing a discount code at someone is not the same as accountability!

Genuine Contrition: Does the person or brand genuinely sound like they are sorry for your experience? Are they taking steps to make things right or secure your loyalty? If they say “Sorry…”in the same tone my kid does when he is asked to apologize, you’ll know it’s not sincere!

Systemic Change: Did the brand or person look deeper and get to the root cause of the lack of empathy? Have they gone back to the status quo, believing this to be a one-off, or has something changed in their communication, hiring, processes, or interactions? If so, this may be a sign they are learning from mistakes and we should reward that with a second chance.

Humility and a Growth Mindset: Do they see your experiences as an inconvenience they have to deal with or as a learning opportunity to improve customer (and interpersonal) experience from now on? 

I still don’t know if I can forgive the brand that treated me so badly a few years ago. How they blamed ME for the shipping mistake without proof, for not getting back to me as promised,, and then arrogantly proceeded to justify their poor customer service with “We’re just getting so much business right now, we can’t answer every email.”Wow. Just….wow.

But maybe over time, if I think their processes (and staff) have improved, I may just give them a second look.

With people at work or in your personal life…..well, these same rules can apply. I’m no psychologist, but I think the most important thing with people in your life is to give them the opportunity to know there is a problem first, assess their motives, and give them a second chance if you can. Especially if they’re willing to learn from it because maybe they just didn’t even realize their behavior – and this experience is a great lesson for them.

But after communicating to them that this was an issue and working through it together,  if they continue to disrespect you by not seeing your point of view or actively listening (please know, this does not mean they just “do what you want”all the time!), you may have to reassess the arrangement. 

Photo credit: Brett Jordan, Unsplash

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