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Marketing / Public relations, PR

The day Karl Stefanovic showed us all how to say sorry

If you find yourself going viral for all the wrong reasons, Karl Stefanovic is your unlikely role model for learning how to say sorry.

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So Karl Stefanovic of The Today Show messed up. Hardly a newsflash (he’s kind of made a career out of stuff ups!).

What he did after this particular stuff up, however, is something every business can learn from. He taught us a lesson on how to say sorry.

The stuff up

So, first of all, what did Karl even do? Well, during a live cross to a reporter in Rio about an attempted robbery involving trans women, Karl used the term ‘tranny’. Several times.

An outcry followed and in response, Karl issued one of the most incredible apologies ever. Incredible because, unlike most apologies made by public figures or businesses when a stuff up happens, Karl took complete responsibility for his comments and ignorance, and apologised for his words without qualification or excuses.

"Social media means customers are no longer a faceless mass. They can have a real impact on a business in a very short time."

You can watch his apology below:

Now let’s talk about a business that got it really wrong

Early in 2016 organisers were forced to apologise about the service and facilities at the pricey NYE Above the Harbour event.

Disappointed customers took to social media to vent their frustration and demand refunds. The organisers released a statement and made some classic mistakes.

Their apology was:

  • Too long
  • Took a defensive tone
  • Shifted blame to their customers: “The organisers greatly regret that a number of patrons have complained”
  • Was internally focussed, referring to their “significant financial investment” and “over six months in planning”
  • Was padded with irrelevant information
  • Used weasel words and phrases e.g. “working diligently”
  • Lacked a clear strategy for addressing the issues.

Their biggest mistake? Offering dissatisfied customers the opportunity to apply for a $100 refund (tickets were around $400-500). Within 24 hours this offer was removed. They dithered, they didn’t have a clear strategy and they got it wrong.

The issue continues to this day with ongoing legal action by customers and a disappearing act by the company from social media.

What they could have done better

Their initial statement needed to be brief, courteous and apologetic:

The organisers of NYE Above the Harbour apologise to patrons who had issues with service and facilities at the event. 

We are working through patron feedback. Thank you for your patience and again we apologise for any inconvenience experienced on the night.

That wasn’t so hard and it might have saved their reputation.

Some simple guidelines for how to say sorry and make a public apology

Customers and the community have higher expectations these days, of both individuals and businesses. And social media means customers are no longer a faceless mass. They can have a real impact on a business in a very short time.

If something has gone wrong, take a breath and consider this advice before you make a move.

DO:

  • Be clear on the problem and why your customers think you should apologise
  • Formulate a consistent strategy before you start replying
  • Use the opportunity to get meaningful feedback. If you’re not sure what customers want from the process, ask them
  • Apologise early, apologise often
  • Understand who you’re apologising to. Just those directly affected by an issue? All your customers? The general community?
  • Keep replies short, sweet, consistent and courteous
  • Try to shift social media interaction offline by offering to communicate privately – but remember nothing is private. Communicate like the world is watching
  • Think before you post. Apologise like you mean it and you can come out the other side.

DON’T:

  • Be defensive
  • Ridicule, belittle or criticise anyone making a complaint
  • Delete, block or ignore negative comments on social media
  • Engage with trolls (unless your business makes troll bridges and they are your key target market)
  • Make promises you can’t or won’t keep.

What’s next?

Let’s hope you never need this advice. But the next time you receive a complaint, or just a crappy review on your Facebook page, take a breath and get it right.

If a ‘larrikin’ figure like Karl can make us think about evolving our language and saying sorry like you mean it, there’s hope for us all 🙂

Have you ever stuffed up royally? Was your apology as gracious as Karl’s?

Amanda Vanelderen

is the author of Write Better: How To Cut The Crap And Say What You Mean, an illustrated guide to everyday writing. Copywriter at WorkWords, she’s a news junkie and music lover. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin.

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