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Sorry Shouldn’t Be The Hardest Thing To Say: It Is Financially Better To Do So

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

Many times Sorry is often the hardest word to say.  But in reality saying sorry shoud not only be the first thing to say, but can often be the most cost efficient thing to say when you have committed a wrong.

According to new research by the University of Nottingham, companies that simply say sorry to disgruntled customers fare better than those that offer financial compensation.  Not only are the customers more willing to the use the company again, but the cost is clear – nothing.

The researchers found people are more than twice as likely to forgive a company that says sorry than one that instead offers them cash as a form of recompense.

Study co-author Dr Johannes Abeler said the results proved apologies were both powerful and cheap. He said: “You might think that if the apology is costless then customers would ignore it as nothing but cheap talk – which is what it is. But this research shows apologies really do influence customers.”  According to the research, the apology was more powerful than a cash incentive.

“It might be that saying sorry triggers in the customer an instinct to forgive – an instinct that’s hard to overcome rationally,” says Abeler.  The research involved companies that sold products on Ebay and customer complaints that were negative about the company.  The apology affected or cash incentive affected whether the customer would remove a negative comment posted online.

Approximately 45% of participants withdrew their evaluation in light of the apology, while only 23% agreed in return for compensation.

The study also discovered that a higher purchase price further reduced the number of customers willing to forgive for cash.  On the other hand, the size of the purchase had no effect on the willingness of customers to settle for an apology

Even when the apology could be considered as insincere and motivated by financial reasons, the apology “still yielded much better outcomes than offering cash compensation – and our results might even underestimate its effects,” said Abeler.

This research clearly supports what many mediators have been saying all along:  Apologies are effective.  It is interesting to note, however, that the apologies don’t work “every time.”  This may be a misconception regarding the effectiveness of the apology.  Many attorneys feel incorrectly that the apology must work every time.  The reality is that it can’t work every time.  However, as noted above, close to half of the time, the apology can be a very effective tool in resolving conflicts.

This research is also consistent with the other research that I recently cited that suggests that plaintiff’s motives in bringing lawsuits are not primarily financial, but instead for a variety of other reasons.  See my prior post regarding plaintiff’s motivations.

This research also supports  the concept that before the conflict really escalates, it is worthwhile for parties to really make an attempt to apologize for any perceived wrongdoing.

University of Nottingham (2009, September 23). Saying Sorry Really Does Cost Nothing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 27, 2009, from /releases/2009/09/090923105815.htm


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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