Is ‘I’m sorry’ enough?

Over the weekend, while spectators were feeling the heat at the Formula One race in Sepang, a certain business was also experiencing the same, although of a different kind.

A patisserie called Les Deux Garcons drew criticisms and flak for its responses to a customer, who had complained on its official Facebook page about its in-store customer service and lack of proper labelling on its products.

The posts spread far and wide, attracting comments from users from as far away as Australia and Wales.

Although the business eventually apologised, based on comments posted, it seems consumers, in general, aren’t so forgiving.

This is not the first social media blunder to have happened, with most ending with an official apology by the brand involved.

Apologising the right way

But is that sufficient to pull the business back out of the pool of shame and to appease angry consumers and regain their trust and confidence?

“‘Im sorry’ does a lot but a good apology must include a positive tone and intent. [The business involved should also] contact the person complaining directly and apologise to the individual, not the followers,” said Craig Selby, managing director of Orchan Consulting.

“In this case, I suspect this apology came a little too late and was a little too insincere. The apology paralleled a ‘have to’ rather than a ‘want to’, and this only served to aggravate the situation by encouraging more social media users to comment on or share their disappointment with this business,” he adds.

Joe Najib, director of digital, interactive and social media at ISC Innovators, agreed by saying that a public apology is necessary, not to put the issue to rest, but to acknowledge fault. “The customers decide whether to accept or otherwise, though the majority of Malaysians will recognise it as good practice.”

Social media can destroy your brand just as quickly as it can help escalate your brand.

“What we need to learn is just how important it is to maintain a positive framework on social media, and not to let a moment of anger or frustration from a business owner or staff member become public,” Selby added.

Chee Yih Yang, senior account director and Malaysia digital lead, Text100 Malaysia, said, “Facebook has become a natural platform for customers to reach out to brands. In view of the direct engagement between brands and customers, it is becoming more important to integrate customer service into brand’s community management strategy for all social media channels.”

“People expect professionalism at all times. When done right, should a customer become unreasonable and persistent, other netizens will swing the company’s way instead,” said Joe.

Is social media the right platform for making a complaint?

When asked whether consumers today are right to turn to social media, rather than go through the proper channels, when issuing a complaint, Selby said, “Social media is part of this extended platform. The key thing is to remember that even on social media, it is essential to ensure you maintain the image of your brand and represent it appropriately through words and responses.

“Either positive or negative, social conversations will amplify a situation to an ‘audience of audiences’ – this is a fact,” he said.

Joe of ISC Innovators said that as much as Malaysians are quick to shame businesses, they are also equally quick in acknowledging good practices. “Social media IS a proper channel, once made available by the businesses themselves,” he said.

What should Les Deux Garcons do, now that it has issued an apology?

“Other than removing their Facebook page, they have to be seen to genuinely try to rectify this situation. Everyone has a “bad hair day” and with genuine effort to re-connect with customers, it could be resolved. Address the customer who complained, and address specific concerns with the customer, publicly, and show this,” Selby advises.

As for Chee, he says that beyond an apology note, the brand should carefully evaluate its existing community management processes, and establish clear policies and procedures for customer service on Facebook, while considering potential situations to prepare the community manager in responding to future requests and issues.

“Time to move on – they have learnt their lesson, and like other businesses who have suffered in recent times due to social media mishaps, they will ride through it.

“It all started from one posting – the same wave of dissatisfaction can be neutralised by fixing it with the customer directly / personally, and showing that the customer has moved on. Its not about fixing a mistake now, it is about re-building a brand image,” Selby said.

“Social media is not a campaign or a promotional platform, it is a life-long commitment with your customers. You will be judged by what you say, at face value. It is also better to NOT have a social page than to have one and operate it badly, or to leave it unattended,” Joe added.

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