How to handle complaints the right way

Apology Clause

Sorry needn’t be the hardest word

Verita support the Apology Clause campaign and their mission to clarify the compensation act so businesses can understand how to handle complaints and apologise when they should. We have signed their petition and, to raise awareness to our own readers, we have asked them to write an article for Verita. This article also featured in our May bulletin which you can read here.

Thank you to Nick Wright and Guy Corbet at the Apology Clause campaign.

 

Article by Nick Wright

 

The media is full of tragic stories in which someone who has suffered terribly is left to say that all they wanted was an apology, and they did not get it.

Sometimes under guidance from legal advisors or insurers, the businesses say and do nothing.  Or they simply roll out a convoluted “non-apology” (“I am sorry if you feel that way…”).

Faizah Shaheen was detained by Thomson Airlines for reading a book about Syrian art. The airline said: “we’re really sorry if Ms Shaheen remains unhappy with how she feels she was treated”. She had read a book.

She tried to sue for a proper apology, and the case ended up in the media, doing no good for Thomson Airlines’ reputation.  A simple and sincere apology could have spared them the time, cost and damage, and not ruined Faizah’s lasting memories of her honeymoon.

These situations need not happen.  The law supports apologies.

The Compensation Act 2006 says “an apology, an offer of treatment or another redress, shall not itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty”.

Yet too often businesses put their fear of legal ramifications over what they see as their moral obligations.  They fear if they apologise properly they will leave themselves open to legal action.

That refusal to do the right thing can have serious and lasting impact on victims.  A clear apology can lift the burden that victims very often carry for a long time after a trauma.  It can enable them to move on.  To stop blaming themselves.  To stop re-living the most agonising moment.  To rebuild.

The Apology Clause helps businesses understand how to handle complaints

 

Apologies make business sense

Not feeling able to apologise doesn’t add up for businesses either.  Knowing how to handle complaints correctly at the outset can prevent them from becoming crises.

A well-handled apology can avoid the costs and risks of going to court.  Even in court, a meaningful apology can reduce settlement costs.  Not to mention the cost to a business’s reputation.

In Canada, a class action against Maple Leaf foods which set out looking for $100 million settled for an awful lot less.  The class was impressed with the way Maple Leaf had apologised for its role at the heart of a fatal listeria outbreak, and how it then set about improving industry standards.

Maple Leaf was able to do this because Canada has an apology clause which is sufficiently well established for its CEO to say the “two sets of advisors he didn’t listen to were the lawyers and the accountants”. It saved the business.

Apology clause campaigns to put “sorry” on the map

That is why we set up the Apology Clause campaign – to make it easier for businesses to behave with compassion when things go wrong, and to help victims have better recoveries. 

“Sorry” really does make a difference to victims, as it can for the reputations and financials of businesses caught in the eye of the storm.  While it is easy to see why lawyers’ first instinct is to be extremely cautious, there are times when embracing the apology clause would serve their clients better.

Visit the campaign website to find out more, contact us at [email protected], or show your support by signing the petition at www.change.org/p/secretary-of-state-for-justice-clarify-the-apology-clause

Along with NickGuy Corbet is a co-founder of the Apology Clause campaign (www.apologyclause.com and @ApologyClause). 

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Verita provide complaint handling consultancy to NHS, education, charities and the public and private sectors as well as a complaints handling training course. If you would like to learn more about how to handle complaints please book a free consultation or contact Ed Marsden on 020 7494 5670 or [email protected].

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If you would love to read more about the work that Verita has done on helping businesses understand how to handle complaints please click on the additional articles below:

The power of apology – advice on saying sorry

Outsourcing public services: clearing a backlog of complaints

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