When you upset customers you need to win them back. There’s great opportunity in the apology ad. Four steps to showing you’ve changed.
What should a company that has loses half a million customers and posts a loss of $1.2 billion do to win its customers back? The public relations playbook goes a little something like this:
- Admit mistakes;
- Show empathy;
- Tell them you listened and acted;
- Show them why they should come back.
It’s worth noting that very few companies say sorry. “We apologise for any inconvenience caused” is the furthest they’ll go and they’re often reluctant to say that.
Vodafone Australia is taking a different approach. Here’s the first television ad of the campaign:
It’s a campaign underpinned by confidence in its product. Its Chief Marketing Officer said, “We’ve been very humble about where we’ve been, but I think what’s really important is that this doesn’t mean we can’t be confident about our future”.
The ad copy:
At Vodafone we’ve added an extra half a million square kilometres of coverage — so if you don’t get that call it’s probably not our network.
So that’s the humble phase done with. True to its word, it’s straight into confidence mode. The hubris is puzzling. This is the first ad most people will see in the campaign. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the mistakes and show customers why they should give Vodafone a second chance.
They should have made an apology ad.
Winning customers back with an apology ad (that doesn’t say sorry)
Do: admit your mistakes and move on quickly.
It may not be necessary to say “sorry”, customers do want to hear companies admit they made a mistake. In politics it’s the same. Eliot Spitzer (the product), who is running for Comptroller of New York City, does this in his first campaign ad: “Look: I failed — big time. I hurt a lot of people. When you dig yourself a hole, you either lie in it the rest of your life, or you do something positive.” He’s saying sorry without saying sorry. Simple, clear, quick.
Vodafone: no acknowledgement of mistakes. (How many customers are really going to remember the 2011 apology?)
Do: show you understand the customer’s feelings.
The need to have feelings of frustration or anger acknowledged is a basic human emotion. Companies that show empathy are demonstrating to the customer that “they get it”. It tells the customer that they have been heard and things are going to get better. Failing to showing empathy can lead to increased anger and frustration.
Vodafone: does not show empathy. Strangely, it is tapping into the anxiety that most young people experience in one way or another. In essence they are saying, “if you don’t get a call from that boy you fancy it’s because he doesn’t like you. Don’t blame us.”
Tell them you listened and acted
Do: show the customer what you’ve done to fix the problem.
Customers want to know that the problem won’t happen again. They want to know you care enough about them that your service or product is better than it’s ever been and won’t let them down.
Vodafone: does it poorly. Half a million square kilometres of coverage sounds like a lot but it’s difficult to visualise. The connection between increased coverage and the problem being solved needs to made be clearer. It needs to speak to things like speed and reliability.
Show them why they should come back
Do: show the customer why you’re the best.
Once you’ve lost a customer it’s not enough to tell them you’ve fixed the problem. You need to show them that your service or product is the best and if they want the best they have to come back. Use superlatives: biggest; fastest; clearest; smartest.
Vodafone: nothing in this ad communicates why Vodafone is better than the competition. And it’s getting critical they do that. It is still losing customers. 4,300 a day. It’s difficult to lure customers back when they’re still leaving in droves.
One thing that struck me about the ad was that it seemed lazy. I did some research and found it’s been lifted from Vodafone Ireland. Different country, different context, different problems, same ad. Strange.
Vodafone Australia has a problem on its hands. It has borrowed and invested heavily in improving its network. It needs customers to stop leaving and it needs past customers to come back. Until it can start to show people that lessons have been learned and things are better than they were, it will struggle. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be this difficult.
Vodafone might not have set out to make an apology ad. But they need to. People remember the dropped calls, the calls they missed and the scratchy lines. Until it repairs those relationships they will struggle to stop the rot.
Do you have an example of a great apology ad? When did a company turn you from an unhappy customer into one that sang their praises?