Despite an organisation’s best intentions, sometimes they get things wrong. It could be a poor service experience, an IT glitch, a rogue error, or an unlucky collision of events that turns a small problem into a big one.
Very often it is not the problem itself that sets minds against you, it’s how the problem is resolved – or more importantly, how it isn’t. People do not forget bad experiences because the experience triggers an emotional response and emotions are the fuel of memories.
We've all felt the spike of emotion when we have a bad experience. Common emotions are anger and frustration, but we can also feel hurt or sadness. A bad experience can make us feel demeaned or disrespected. Almost always, it leads to a sense of unfairness.
Emotional responses are significant because they influence our memories. When things cause no emotional response, we don’t remember them, whereas when we feel something, we store it away – only to return to the foreground again in response to a stimulus (such as your brand name or an advertisement from your agency or organisation).
It is a natural human instinct to respond to things that trigger emotions. It serves to make us alert to things that have caused emotional pain or pleasure in the past, drawing us towards the stimulus or putting up our guard against it.
Memories are not videos of events, however; they are remembered in accordance with the emotional journey we were on. We will remember emotional peaks, and we will remember endings but when we recall the whole event, we fill in the bits between emotional peaks with guesswork. Memories are an unreliable record of facts but a perfectly credible narrative for the person doing the remembering.
Unresolved emotions do not go away. Why should they? Our brain has no reason not to associate negative emotions with a trigger if nothing has been done to neutralise the pain.
The key to shifting entrenched minds based on bad experiences is to first uncover what the emotions are so that you know what you need to neutralise. Dealing with anger is different from dealing with someone who feels hurt or demeaned.
The next step is to understand the memory. Your records might show a course of events that are very different from what the person remembers, and it is their truth that you will need to address - not yours.
If you understand the emotions and the memory, you are equipped to begin the process of changing someone’s mind.
Whatever the emotion, you will need to acknowledge it and find a way to apologise. You need to make the apology feel personal because emotions are owned personally. If it cannot be personal, how can you make it feel personal?
The apology must be authentic, and you must own the problem. Be clear it’s your fault not theirs. ‘We got it wrong’ is a good starting point.
The overarching four principles still apply. Listen to what they have to say, find something you agree upon, don’t argue with their version of the memory, and accept the change you get. They may not become advocates and they may not fully comply or become buyers, but you will have begun the mind change and stemmed the flow of ill will.