Friday, November 3, 2017

SMRT Flooding Incident - Why SMRT's Apology Failed

The public backlash from SMRT's apology for the train disruptions caused by flooding in the North-South Line (NSL) is instructive for the student of crisis communications.

crisis communications smrt flooded NSL apology

Afterall, what SMRT's management did was according to the textbook. The incident happened and they promptly came forward to acknowledge and accept responsibility. So why then are people still angry?

Unfortunately, while they did follow the textbook to promptly come forward to acknowledge the incident and accept responsibility, their apology (bow and all) lacked the key element of contrition. In the crisis communications textbook, any apology offered must be accompanied by a form of contrition. Simply saying "I am sorry" is perceived lip service and is deemed as insincere. Stakeholders want to see you "pay" for your mistake. Thus, in this instance, the lack of contrition rang hollow and Singaporeans anger towards SMRT did not abate.

Examples of successful apologies are those used by celebrities in the United States. Whenever they are caught for drink driving or substance abuse, their apology to their fans for letting them down is often accompanied by self-admission into a rehab centre. Unless the celebrity relapses and runs afoul of the law again, all is usually forgiven and their careers are back on track after the short stint in the rehab centre.

So if you are ever in the position to advice your CEO or Chairman of the Board in how to apologise, remind them that they need to offer contrition. If they are unwilling to, then it is better not to apolgise at all.

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