Last week I sent a letter to the owner of Dorschel Scion, Richard J. Dorschel. I enclosed a printout of my original blog entry, as well as printouts of the Google searches that showed my entry coming up in the top ten for "dorschel difference" and "dorschel scion" and in the top twenty for "dorschel." (They've returned to the index after that brief and odd disappearance, and in fact my post is now in the top ten for "dorschel" as well.)
I received a letter in reply this week. It starts out well, with an apology for the missteps made and frustration we encountered. It goes on to explain why it's so difficult to track the location of cars, as well explaining how the miscommunication about the options occurred. So far, so good. But the ending left a bit to be desired:
My company has a reputation for good service--which I can confirm with our strong Customer Satisfaction Scores and high levels of customer retention. However, we are far from perfect ad I personally am involved in most of our missteps. The language you use to describe my company and my employees suggests you came with a significant degree of mistrust and misconception of a dealer.
In conclusion, I am a long time advocate, financial supporter, and friend of my neighbor, RIT. I can't tell you how much it stings and disappoints me to have a ranking member of the faculty publicly attack my company in language I feel diminishes the image of my company and RIT [emphasis added]. Elizabeth, you again have my apologies for our many miscues. I wish you the best of luck with your Scion and hope the remainder of your owndership experience far exceeds the start.
This got me thinking about why some apologies work wonders in changing opinions, and others (like this one) fall flat. I did a quick search on "art of the apology" and found, much to my amusement, that a post I wrote three years ago is one of the first hits for that phrase.
I found some other great pieces in that search, however. There's a piece from Oprah's website that includes this passage:
3. Genuine expression of remorse. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of the comment "I'm sorry you feel that way" knows the difference between sincere regret and an attempt to avoid responsibility for bad behavior. Few things are less likely to evoke forgiveness than apology without remorse.
I was also reminded of situation we'd encountered with our local elementary school when Lane had a very bad experience with a teacher. I contacted our principal by email to let him know how unhappy we were, and then made an appointment to see him. I walked in, furious, ready to fight, and--if necessary--remove Lane from the school.
The first words out of the principal's mouth were "What's the best thing we can do for Lane right now?" That took every ounce of anger out of me. When I said that moving him to a different class was the best option he said "I agree. I've already laid the groundwork for that, and we'll make it happen tomorrow." He didn't lay blame, he didn't point fingers, he didn't try to make me feel bad for being upset. He focused everything on how to improve the situation, and I left feeling 1000% better than when I'd walked in. (That principal, Mark Turner, retired this past year, and he'll be sorely missed. He was a treasure.)
What Mr. Dorschel didn't seem to recognize was that my anger was not primarily about the lateness of the car. As I said in my post, I recognize that they don't have control over that. My frustration was with the manager who promised Gerald that he would be our only point of contact moving forward but then didn't follow up on that promise (the original salesman called us two days later to confirm what options we'd ordered), with the salesman who told me that I must be confused when I confronted him with the inaccurate information he'd given us, and the attempt to pass the buck on responsibility away from the salesman who'd sat with us and taken the order to the salesman we knew personally who'd assisted on the deal. I'll add to that list Mr. Dorschel's claim that my post somehow diminishes RIT's reputation. (Huh?!)
In fact, Mr. Dorschel is wrong about my preconceptions. We'd had excellent experiences in the past with John Holtz Honda, and went into the process of purchasing this car with high expectations, not low ones. And I'm not tarring all car dealerships with the same brush here. This was an experience specific to one dealership, but it was a pattern of behavior--in the salesman, the manager, and now the owner--that consistently showed a desire to combine an apology with a deflection of blame, and implications that I was at fault. That never works well.
The sad thing about all of this is that a well-crafted apology probably would have caused me to go back and update the original post with more positive information, thus greatly reducing the overall damage to the company's "googlejuice". What would that apology have included?
1) A genuine expression of remorse. [that was there, in the first paragraph]
2) An explanation of what had happened (which I wish had been given to us a lot earlier, as it would have reduced our sense of frustration and helplessness). [that was there as well]
3) A complete lack of blame-passing. [nope]
4) Accurate information about what had transpired with his staff [nope]
5) A gesture to make amends [nope]
He got two out of five, which was a start, but pretty much negated those by claiming that I was somehow damaging RIT's image by publicly expressing my unhappiness. FAIL.
Update, 9/8: For the sake of completeness and context, for anyone who really cares, here are my original letter to Richard Dorschel, and Dorschel's full response.