Power of genuine contrition mustn't be underestimated

I received a call early last month that, admittedly, I might have met with too much enthusiasm. However, my position as a keen observer of the PR discipline and a follower of recent major corporate crises convinced me my excitement was warranted.

I received a call early last month that, admittedly, I might have met with too much enthusiasm. However, my position as a keen observer of the PR discipline and a follower of recent major corporate crises convinced me my excitement was warranted.

New York has suffered some extreme weather of late. There was an honest-to-goodness tornado on September 16, and a subsequent storm - not of the same ferocity, but potent nonetheless - caused a power outage in my neighborhood of Plainview, Long Island, NY.

In truth, the latter happened on a Monday morning, was rectified that afternoon, and I would not have even known about it had Mother Nature not interrupted my wife's unexpected sick day.

The next day, I got a call at work - from a live person! - at the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) apologizing for the incident.

Understand that LIPA is essentially a monopoly - it's the only game in town in terms of electricity where I live. Unless I move or stock up on candles, I have no recourse. Moreover, in my two-and-a-half years on the Island, I've suffered through similar outages during much more inconvenient moments - weekends, evenings, and periods of oppressive heat. The contrite call? That was a first.

Maybe LIPA has taken notice of other crisis-ridden entities that have failed to show the proper remorse in the eyes of many? In any event, the call surprised me because LIPA didn't need to make it. It made me think of all the companies with legitimate competitors to whom they could lose business who would likely not have done so. Will I get angry when the next blackout inevitably occurs? Yes, but LIPA built up some brand equity with me - and there's great value in that no matter how large or small the company.

My view of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is not quite so positive. On September 16, the aforementioned tornado shut down service from New York City during evening rush hour. I can't fault the LIRR for fallen trees strewn across tracks, but its failure to communicate with customers at Penn Station was infuriating. I was among the many who kept hearing unrealistic service updates when I should have been getting guidance on an alternate way home, which a kind police officer finally offered at about 11pm.

Updates were posted on the Internet, I concede, but what ever happened to just telling people what's going on? That tactic still works. The packed station might have indicated that more than a few poor souls were eagerly awaiting word of what to do.

LIPA's simple act showed remorse. Appreciated. The LIRR, however, did not seem to be sorry at all, even though I sure was.

Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at gideon.fidelzeid@prweek.com.

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