The recent apology from Flipkart (http://blog.flipkart.com/apologies-from-flipkart/) has divided opinions. While some believe it to be too little, too late, others are quick to cite it as the gold standard in service recovery. So, how do we measure the effectiveness of this apology? Aaron Lazare, a pioneer in this space, suggests that there are four parts of an effective apology. In his book ‘On Apology’, he identifies these parts as acknowledgment, explanation, remorse and reparation. Let’s see how well Flipkart’s apology measures on these parameters.
1. Acknowledgement: A valid acknowledgment clearly identifies the offender and the offended. The offender must categorically acknowledge the mistake. It is important to be clear and complete instead of vague (e.g. ‘we are sorry for whatever happened’) and conditional (e.g. ‘in case someone has been hurt’).
The Flipkart apology ticks all these boxes. It comes directly from the founders - Sachin and Binny, not from the Head of Sales or Operations or Customer Service who may not have had the standing to offer an apology. The apology is clearly directed to the offended people (“we were unable to live up to the expectations of millions more who wanted to buy from us yesterday.”). Sachin and Binny accept the responsibility for the mistake (“we did not live up to the promises we made”) and list down all the issues that customers faced (e.g. price changes, out-of-stock, cancellations, website issues). It also helps that they mostly use an active voice (“We didn't source enough products and deals in advance”, not ‘mistakes in sourcing were made’).
2. Explanation: The next aspect of a good apology is the explanation. A well-articulated explanation shows why the mistake happened and why it won’t happen again. A poor explanation, on the other hand, tries to deflect the blame (e.g. “for factors beyond our control”) or hides more than it reveals (e.g. “for some technical reasons”).
Sachin and Binny provide detailed information on what happened (e.g. “we ran out of the stock for many products within a few minutes”) and why (e.g. “we had ensured availability but it was nowhere near the actual demand.”). They also explain why it would not happen again (“we promise to plan much better for future promotions and ensure that we minimise the out-of-stock issues.”)
3. Remorse: Remorse, according to Dr. Lazare, is a deep, painful regret that is part of the guilt people experience when they have done something wrong. Remorse means that the person making the apology understands the pain the mistake has caused and the impact of that pain. In an apology delivered in person, the body language and other non-verbals help us decipher whether the remorse is authentic.
In case of Flipkart apology, Sachin and Binny start by expressing their regret on not being able to live up to the expectations (“We did not live up to the promises we made and for that we are really and truly sorry.”) The subject line says ‘Apology, from Flipkart’ and they also sign-off at the end by “we would like to apologize once again to every single customer for our failure”. These signals are critical in virtual communication. Being the proud founders, the duo seem to be at pains to point out that this episode is not a reflection of the kind of company they want to build. .
4. Reparation: Lastly, reparation is a way to compensate for the mistake. When there is a tangible damage, the reparation is usually replacement or monetary compensation. When the damage is intangible, the reparation takes the shape of a gift or a commitment to make a positive change in the future.
Unfortunately, this is where Flipkart apology misses the mark. While Sachin and Binny promise to be better prepared in the future (“we promise to plan much better”), there are no specific plans for the aggrieved customers (e.g. customers whose orders were cancelled). The cancellations were a big irritant and it would have really helped if Flipkart had positive news for those who missed out on a good bargain because Flipkart confirmed their order only to cancel it later. Additionally, some details on the future events of Flipkart, what the customers can expect differently in those events (No stock-outs or cancellations? Better discounts? No errors in the website?) and how would Flipkart make these possible, would have made this apology a perfect example of how leaders should respond when the #%#t hits the roof!
In all, the apology from Sachin and Binny was heartfelt, sincere and direct. And it was delivered with the same blazing speed with which Flipkart delivers its products. And even though it doesn’t score a perfect ten on ‘looking ahead’, it does a great job of ‘looking back’ (acknowledging and explaining the mistake and expressing remorse). I hope Flipkart grows stronger from this experience.