The Apology Impulse Book Summary - The Apology Impulse Book explained in key points
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The Apology Impulse summary

Cary Cooper and Sean O’Meara

How the Business World Ruined Sorry and Why We Can’t Stop Saying It

4.3 (152 ratings)
21 mins
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    The Apology Impulse
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    Corporations are apologizing so much that saying sorry has lost its meaning.

    In the first few months of 2014, American Airlines apologized to customers an astonishing 200 times per day. You might think that they were in the midst of a huge crisis, but in fact, things were going smoothly. They were apologizing for minor grievances such as delays and meals that weren’t to customers’ satisfaction.

    Industries like airlines, taxi services, and supermarkets are especially sensitive to customer complaints because it’s very easy for a customer to change companies if they’re unhappy. If you book a Ryanair flight and then get angry about not being able to check your pet canary in, you can always try your luck with easyJet instead. But if you get annoyed with your bank, you’ll have to go through a lot of tedious admin in order to change. That means “high friction” industries like banks and telecom companies invest a lot less energy in customer service, while “low friction” ones, like airlines, have to work very hard to keep your custom.

    The advent of social media has meant that customers get to air their grievances on the world stage. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter give companies a way to directly interact with their customers, which can have enormous advantages for strengthening their brands. But on the other side, it gives customers a perfect platform to “name and shame” corporations who have displeased them. To appease such customers, corporations have taken to apologizing – all the time.

    While this outpouring of remorse might seem like a positive thing, it’s actually made the act of saying sorry lose its meaning. If a company employs a strategy of tactical appeasement in response to every complaint, it weakens the legitimacy of genuine apologies.

    Corporations need to keep a sense of proportion when deciding if – and how – to apologize. Making a grovelling apology for a minor transgression makes light of more serious injuries. When Tesco said that they were “very sorry” for the life-threatening mistake of dispensing the wrong medication to a customer, they sounded sincere. However, they also said they were “very sorry” for mistakenly labelling dress-up costumes. One mistake could cause serious illness or even death, while the other is completely trivial. Treating them as worthy of the same kind of apology is absurd.

    When it comes to apologies, quality trumps quantity. Apologizing selectively actually increases an organization’s credibility. It also shows that it’s able to be genuinely reflective, and that when it says sorry it really means it.

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    What is The Apology Impulse about?

    The Apology Impulse (2019) reveals how corporations have cheapened the act of saying sorry. These days, apologies are issued to customers for any perceived slight, with the sheer quantity making them meaningless. At the same time, corporations offer weak, jargon-filled fauxpologies in situations where real apologies are required. To save the apology, corporations need to learn how to say sorry wholeheartedly but only when strictly necessary.

    Who should read The Apology Impulse?

    • PR experts who want to learn how to connect with the public authentically
    • Guilty parties who want to make amends, but don’t know how
    • Sociology buffs who are fascinated by social rituals and human behavior

    About the Author

    Sir Cary Cooper is a professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at the Manchester Business School. He is president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development as well as the Institute of Welfare.

    Sean O’Meara is a publicist and writer who founded the public relations consultancy Essential Content.


    © Cary Cooper & Sean O'Meara, 2019. This Summary of The Apology Impulse is published by arrangement with Kogan Page.

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