Perfect the art of saying sorry - Times LIVE
Sat May 27 12:02:47 SAST 2017

Perfect the art of saying sorry

Wendy Knowler | 2017-05-15 07:51:09.0

Image by: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

There's nothing like getting a heartfelt apology to make you let go of the pain and frustration of being wronged in some way.

And yes, when it's been an especially bad wrong, some compensation goes a long way, too.

Having said that, I'm mindful of the fact that companies need to tread very carefully when it comes to compensation, for fear of encouraging "hamper hunters" - those who demand freebies for product or service lapses.

But, sadly, when it comes to consumers being spectacularly wronged by the companies they chose to do business with, a heartfelt sorry - in other words something other than "we apologise for the inconvenience" - is hard to come by, probably because company lawyers warn that a sorry is an admission of guilt that could come back to bite the company in expensive ways.

Ironically, it's precisely the lack of a meaningful apology that has prompted many a wronged customer to take legal action, seek media intervention or "out" the company on social media.

Thoko Mampane chose the media option when she'd reached the end of her tether with Cell C.

Shortly before her 24-month contract ended in 2013 - her second with Cell C - Mampane's smartphone malfunctioned.

She took it to the network's Sandton head office, was given a repair form, but that was the last she saw of it, despite her best efforts to get it back.

"With nowhere left to go, I decided to stop paying for this phone that had just disappeared within the Cell C offices," she said. "At that time I had only a few more months of payments to make."

She reversed the Cell C debit orders - with her bank charging her a hefty fee each time - and all went quiet for a while until recently when the attempted debit orders began again.

"I do not see how it is fair that my query as a customer can be ignored, yet Cell C can hold me to an agreement, simply because they, as a big corporation, have the means to force debits from my account while not giving me what they owe me," she said.

She has a point. Companies also have the ability to wreck a customer's credit record.

Contracts are binding on both parties. Cell C effectively took Mampane's almost paid-off phone four years ago and failed to return it to her - to this day - and "blacklisted" her.

I asked the network: "Under the circumstances, is Cell C willing to close her file, stop collection attempts and restore her credit record?'' Responding, Cell C said: "We have sent an instruction to all the bureaus and asked them to update the client's details.

"The client will be getting a letter from our legal department confirming she has been cleared."

Mampane is thrilled it's over but underwhelmed by the response. "No apology for what they did to me, despite having taken my phone and never giving it back. All this time they've made it about my nonpayment - of only a few months - ignoring that they failed to return my phone to me.''

Karabo Seitei's experience at the hands of SAA last August - detailed in my Sunday Times report yesterday - is an extreme example of a corporate's inappropriate response to a consumer's complaint.

She didn't get the seat belt extension she'd asked for when boarding and, after she pointed this out as the plane was taxiing to the runway, it turned back, causing a half-hour delay and prompting a public announcement attributing the delay to the obese passengers on board.

Seitei, an English moderator, e-mailed the airline's customer-care division the next day and got a reference number but no follow- up, despite re-sending her e-mail in January.

A week after I took up the case, Seitei received an e-mail from the airline's "customer service recovery team", apologising for "the break in service" on that flight - almost nine months previously - and offering her 3000 bonus miles as "a gesture of good care".

Too little, too late, and almost zero empathy.

It wasn't a "break in service" that was most deserving of an apology. It was the humiliating way she was treated as a result of it; the way she was made to feel.

There's real value - for both parties - in perfecting the art of saying sorry like you mean it, in both word and deed.

What a pity more companies don't get that.


Twitter: @wendyknowler



HEALTH UP, PROFIT DOWN: Woolworths' decision to remove sweets and chocolates from its check-out aisles, replacing them with healthier options such as nuts and dried fruit, has had a direct effect on the company's bottom line. According to its annual report, gross profit margin from check-out aisle sales has reduced, partly due to "a lower contribution from high-margin confectionery and lower demand''.


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