Avoid the Apology Tour: Be Proactive

A new survey on consumer forgiveness and JCPenney’s current apology campaign offer member-relations lessons for associations.

We all make mistakes—it’s human nature. But often, how we react to those mistakes is what’s important.

That’s the focus of the third annual Temkin Forgiveness Ratings, a study examining the likelihood that a consumer will forgive a company if it makes a mistake. Advantage Rent A Car and USAA earned the most forgiveness from their customers, according to the survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers and 246 companies across 19 industries. Television service providers, internet service providers, and wireless companies ranked among the lowest.

“Forgiveness is an asset that every organization needs,” Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, said in a statement releasing the ratings last week. “Consumers are more willing to forgive companies that consistently treat them well.”

Perhaps no organization knows more about asking for forgiveness right now than JCPenney. The company has experienced a remarkable turnaround in the public eye since it fired its CEO last month after he made changes in the company’s retail stores that didn’t sit well with its customers. A strong social media campaign—with the hashtag #jcpListens—has led the charge for rehabilitation, along with TV commercials like this one:

But what can associations do—before the apology tour becomes necessary—to build a sense of goodwill with members?

“The best way to avoid problems or snuff them out early on is to get members active and engaged,” said Julie Koch, vice president of member relations for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). “Be proactive and get ahead of the game.”

While considering a controversial merger recently, Koch said, PMA compiled a list of members that it knew could be upset by the outcome, whether the merger occurred or not. Senior-level staff, volunteer leaders, and members took the opportunity to meet face-to-face with them to talk through any concerns.

PMA has carried that approach throughout its member relations efforts, laying a foundation that Koch said will shore up the organization in the event of a future mistake.

“You have to do those sort of unexpected things that may or may not take much effort on the organization’s part, but add extra value for your members,” Koch said. “For PMA, we represent the entire supply chain, so helping members network throughout that supply chain, putting growers in touch with food safety experts—that’s one of the biggest ‘extra’ benefits that our members tell us about.”

Koch boiled it down to one basic concept.

“It’s all about knowing your members and their needs,” she said. “Try to put yourself in their mindset and then take that next step for them. That way, you’re building a positive experience for them, and even if there is a slip-up along the way, they won’t think twice about renewing.”

A scene from JCPenney's new ad campaign, which apologizes for its recent failings. (YouTube screenshot)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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