Should businesses be sorry?

When I worked for a bank, I was sometimes in charge of letting IT users (internally and externally of the business) know that there was a problem (or outage), one of the first things I was told was that in the email or text message I should not apologise for the inconvenience.¬†Essentially, as I was talking “as the company”, I had to refrain from admitting any liability or anything resembling the company from being able to take the blame or be culpable in any way.

In a similar vein, many years earlier when I was working my first job, at a fast food restaurant, on my first day of performing duties cleaning the dining area I was given a mop and a set of instructions; not of the most efficient way to clean the floors, but of how to handle a slip and fall incident: “If someone falls, don’t say it was your fault – don’t ever say sorry”.

I bring all of this up for a reason, because I have had this “corporate indifference” around me me from a young age, whether or not I believe it to be right, whenever I see a company apologise publicly I tend to have a debate with myself on whether or not it is causing damage to their image, or what damage it could cause them should a legal case ensue.

The case that has made me bring this up is Cardiff Bus’ new social networking presence, on Twitter and Facebook. Their social media representative tweets live changes to services, down to “x bus is going to be 20 minutes late”, which is pretty fantastic, really – in lieu of getting their “real time screens” at bus shelters working (which were installed about 10 years ago, but have never been properly operational).

But every tweet or Facebook update is suffixed with “Apologies.” (or sometimes “Apologises”). Does this make them seem unprofessional, or is emotion coming from a corporate entity refreshingly human?


  1. What makes Cardiff Bus seem really unprofessional is their continuous failure to respond to complaints over twitter or otherwise. The Apologies rings very hollow to me these days, because I really don’t get the impression that they care.

    I’ve been waiting 6 months for a proper response to an incident in which one of their drivers drove me off the road – which is entirely unsatisfactory.

  2. I think companies who have a human relationship with people are favoured. I know I prefer buying meat from the local shop rather than a supermarket, because the guy knows exactly what I want when I walk in. If a supermarket butcher had that same connection with people, I think they’d feel just as loyal to the supermarket.

    There’s no reason why big companies can’t be as valued as small businesses. I saw this picture this morning which basically says “buy from small businesses because they’re real people”. Big companies create jobs which allow someone to pay for the hockey, or college, but they do need to start connecting with people better.

  3. I think it all comes down to transparency. Thanks to the advent of instant comms people expect a reply when they make the effort to contact a brand or company. I would ask, ‘what else do they have Twitter and Facebook pages for?’ but so many of them have jumped on the social networking bandwagon without really understanding what they’re to be used for.

    I’ll admit that Cardiff Bus is little grovelling in its updates, but considering the frequency with which they screw up, you gotta give them points for their honesty about it. Other companies – Virgin Media and Orange for example – masquerade under the guise of ‘helping’ with their seemingly automated tweets along the lines of ‘Oh, we’re sorry to hear about your problem, etc, etc’, but there’s no real transparency or interaction or *usefulness* there. They’re massive brands that don’t understand the resources they have, which is just insane in this day and age.

  4. I think companies on Twitter get too much credit for simply being there and replying to people. Have a look at the @VirginMedia account for example – how many problems are actually being resolved there? None usually. The best they offer is a suggestion to call their helpline.

    I’m not keen on the new use of @CardiffBus for service updates either. Most of the updates won’t be relevant to me, and I could easily miss the ones I would want to see. As you say, properly working screens at the stops would be ideal. And like Rachel says, they’re only on Twitter because it’s popular.

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