WH Smith Puts Reputation First, Commerce Second

WHSmith’s website is down.

Normally when a company’s e-tail website goes down, it’s a disaster for them.

This time it might just be a heroic success.

WHSmith have taken their site down and instead posted this apology:

Pictured: Contrition.

Pictured: Contrition.

(In case you missed the news, they recently found themselves in hot water after selling ebooks about bestiality and incest.)

A lot is going to be written about this in the next 48 hours, but we’ll confine ourselves to the language of the apology.

It works.

It works because it fulfils the criteria of a “true” apology: It admits responsibility for offense or injury caused, and, most importantly, goes out of its way to make the admission.

That WHSmith has sacrificed revenue to display its apology shows how potentially damaging its transgression was. It also suggests a real drive to repair that damage.

As Aaron Lazare notes in his book, On Apology, a successful apology depends upon ‘… acknowledging offense, accepting responsibility for it, expressing remorse, and offering reconciliation’.

Good luck to WHSmith.

Does sorry seem to be the hardest word? If so, email Chris to discuss the correct approach to public atonement.