It’s insane. Unbelievable. It absolutely defies logic. But after admitting to smoking crack cocaine, being drunk and disorderly in public on numerous occasions, admitting to driving under the influence, saying some of the most grossly inappropriate things to the media about his ‘eating’ habits, and being caught out in a number of lies, Rob Ford still maintains a 47% approval rating (as of January 6th – 5% higher than it was a month earlier).
How is this possible? How can a public official with such a litany of offensive behaviour have any approval rating? There are probably several factors, which I’m sure have sociologists puzzled, but there is one factor that bears examining.
He apologized. Repeatedly.
In fact, even after being caught out in outright lies, he has apologized for both the actions and his deceptions. He claims that he is only human and imperfect.
And people are believing him. Because they want to. We see someone in a position of power screw up and deny it, we have an urge to see them suffer. Because they are separate, ‘above us’ and untouchable. This offends our sense of justice, and we want to see them pay for their privilege, their arrogance.
Yet when we see a celebrity of any type screw up, admit it and apologize, we suddenly get a spike of empathy. And we want to forgive them, hoping that if we are willing to be generous about someone else’s faults, that others will be generous about our own.
Humans are flawed creatures, who make mistakes. And since humans still run companies and organizations (at least until our new robot overlords take over), companies and organizations are going to make mistakes. You would think that apologies should be non-issues, and easily given.
But we have a fear of apologizing. And when a customer has a genuinely bad experience, the last thing they want to hear is that it’s not the company’s fault. And that’s exactly what we usually do.
We fear that acknowledging an error will make us look weak, or inferior. That we will hurt our reputation with our customer by admitting fault.
Rob Ford has done despicable things, many times over, admitted them and apologized. And still has a 47% approval rating.
An apology lifts you up in your customers’ eyes. It takes the sting out of the event, by admitting that nobody is perfect. It clears up the misconception that you don’t care about your customer, or that you actually meant for them to have a bad experience. It opens the conversation to customer recovery. And it gets you and the customer back on the same side of the conversation, instead of a confrontation.
And if apologies can keep such a blinding disaster of a human being like Rob Ford popular, then there has to be some merit to them.