‘Never’, cautioned Benjamin Franklin, ‘ruin an apology with an excuse’.
In a letter (below) to customers published online and in newspapers, Southern Railway CEO Charles Horton states he is ‘extremely sorry’ for severe disruptions to his firm’s rail services arising from a change of role for the company’s conductors. And then promptly blames the havoc on the RMT Union.
Horton’s apology comes across as a passing of the buck, and insincere.
It also appears defensive. Given the firm’s reputation for poor services, his wish to be seen as apologetic is understandable.
But this does not mean it is necessarily the right thing to do.
The Oxford Dictionary defines an apology as ‘a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure’.
To be credible, an apology must be seen as heartfelt.
If Southern’s stated commitments to improve its services and employee welfare are genuine, there’s no need for – and certainly little to be gained by – apologising for the union’s behaviour.
Despite misgivings about the word, in this instance Mr Horton may be better advised to express regret or concern. Oxford defines regret as a ‘feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment’ about a course of action. Horton feels sad that the RMT is compelled to strike … .
Apology or regret aside, Horton should also candidly acknowledge the firm’s service is below par, that there’s a comprehensive plan in place to improve customer satisfaction, and that the role change is one of many actions to this end over the coming weeks and months.
Only by acknowledging the problem and focusing squarely on the solution does Horton have a chance of convincing customers of his sincerity. And only then can he credibly pass off the union as self-interested and intransigent.