Recently we've been talking about corporations and their lack of couth (that's a word I learned from my mother!), morals and ability to apologize so its only right that we look at an example of a corporation who understands the importance of saying sorry and meaning it. And how genuinely acknowledging and apologizing for your mistakes in business is a great way to cover your ass.
So I'm sure you all heard about the tragic plane crash that happened at the San Francisco Airport over the weekend. 307 people were on the Asiana Airlines flight (including 29 middle schoolers and their teachers) that went from Shanghai to Seoul to San Francisco where it crashed, tail first, during landing. Remarkably, 305 people survived. Devastatingly, two people died and those two people were teenaged girls.
At a press conference Sunday morning, the President and CEO of Asiana Airlines acknowledged that neither the plane nor the engine were the cause of the crash, which means that he was also acknowledging that it was likely pilot error. Meaning Asiana Airlines will almost certainly be liable without option to pass the buck to the manufacturers of the plane. It probably would have been pretty easy for the company to claim, at least at this early stage, that some other company might be at fault for causing the crash. But they didn't. They apologized swiftly.
And then they did this. (No, seriously, CLICK THAT!)
Pretty moving, huh?
A friend of mine who has spent a lot of time in East Asia mentioned that officials bowing when apologizing for a public error is pretty standard culturally. Still, I found this example of corporate executive humility very moving. An example, we can learn from and apply in our businesses.
While an apology may seem trivial to the families facing the loss of their daughters and for hundreds of travelers who have been through a traumatic event, it's an important first step to making amends. It seems pretty obvious that you should apologize when you make a mistake that negatively affects your clients. Yet it seems to be pretty rare in business. An accounting firm I once hired made a mistake on our taxes causing us to be audited and then charged a penalty by the IRS. When I brought the issue to their attention, they refused to acknowledge their error. After some unpleasant back and forth, they offered to help us resolve the issue but at that point the bridge was already burned.
So the first lesson is apologize immediately. Don't try to find a way to make it your client's fault. If you're wrong, say your wrong. And then go one step further.
Not only should you quickly apologize, but you should also offer to compensate the client for your mistake. And again, this should be done swiftly. Don't wait for the client to ask for a refund and definitely don't wait to be sued. If you can't afford to make it right immediately (which can be an issue in small businesses that often have times of the month or times of the year (or both) where they are cash strapped), make a plan to make it right as soon as possible.
Lastly, your apology MUST be genuine. Think about the situation from the perspective of your client who has experienced a loss in one way or another due to your mistake. When you think of your client first and yourself second, you have a much greater chance of maintaining the business relationship. The executives of Asiana Airlines nailed this step for me with their collective bow. Its possible it wasn't a genuine apology, but it sure appeared that way.
SO what does any of this have to do with covering your ass?
I frequently tell my clients to have layers of liability protection. Proper business form (like an LLC or an S-Corp) is one layer. Having written contracts with everyone you do business with is another layer. And excellent customer service is another layer of liability protection.
Having a protocol to quickly fix mistakes that effect your customers is an essential part of good customer service. Not only is it the right thing to do but it will also cover your ass. “Studies show that when potential plaintiffs receive an apology, they are more likely to settle out of court for less money.” Or, when you follow these steps, hopefully not go to court at all.
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