Apologies represent a common strategy to respond to crises or product/service failures. In five experiments, involving different failures, we show that projecting lower competence in a specific, non-core domain of activity provides a significant boost to apology effectiveness. A projection of lower competence, operationalized as a lack of skills or expertise required to effectively execute a specific task, increases the perceived costliness of the apology because the organization accepts a symbolic cost. Perceived costliness, in turn, increases the perceived sincerity of the apology and leads to more favorable responses. This strategy, however, is effective only under certain circumstances and can backfire if misapplied. First, organizations might project lower competence only when stakeholders have no other reason to question their competence. Second, projecting lower competence is effective only when the failure is not relevant to the core business. Finally, the strategy is not effective for consumers with low communal relationship orientation.
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Based on the relevant literature (Halkias and Diamantopoulos, 2020), we considered mentions to the following words: competen*, skill*, incompeten*, capable, efficient, industrious, intelligent.
The use of compensation should be more effective in conditions of high persuasion knowledge because the financial payment represents an immediate benefit to the receiver that requires little processing to be understood.
At the end of the survey, participants were debriefed and informed that they would receive the entire additional fee (bonus) of £.50 irrespective of the donation awarded. Moreover, we explained that their intended donation would be donated by the researchers to a charitable organization similar to that described in the survey.
We also checked perceived apology credibility and clarity (with the same measures used in Study 1b). The apology conditions are not perceived differently in terms of credibility (Mlow competence = 5.39, Mexplanation = 5.48, Mcompensation = 5.46; F (2, 460) = .20, p > .05, partial η2 = .02) or clarity (Mlow competence = 5.30, Mexplanation = 5.33, Mcompensation = 5.32; F (2, 460) = .02, p > .05, partial η2 = .02).
To simplify the reporting, we did not consider compensation in the estimation of the moderated mediation model. The results however are consistent if we consider the full model with the three conditions for the independent variable (explanation vs low competence vs compensation). The results of the full model are reported in Web Appendix C.
As in previous studies, there are no differences in terms of credibility (Mlow competence = 4.89, Mexplanation = 4.98; t (280) = .22, p > .05, d = .11) or clarity (Mlow competence = 5.88, Mexplanation = 5.97; t (280) = .56, p > .05, d = .08). Results also show that attributions of responsibility are not significantly different between the apology conditions (Mlow competence = 6.19, Mexplanation = 6.07; t (286) = .83, p > .05, d = .10. Finally, the low competence apology is not perceived as more surprising than the alternative recovery (Mlow competence = 4.15, Mexplanation = 4.17, t (286) = .301, p > .05, d = .03).
The organization’s apology conditions are not perceived differently in terms of credibility (Mlow competence = 5.36, Mexplanation = 5.75, Mcompensation = 5.94; F (2, 175) = 2.85, p > .05, partial η2 = .02) or clarity (Mlow competence = 5.57, Mexplanation = 5.40, Mcompensation = 5.94; F (2, 175) = 2.74, p > .05, partial η2 = .02). Moreover, as in previous studies, attributions of responsibility (Mlow competence = 6.30, Mexplanation = 6.22, Mcompensation = 6.44; F (2, 175) = .67, p > .05, partial η2 = .01), perceptions of warmth (Mlow competence = 4.29, Mexplanation = 4.24, Mcompensation = 4.19; F (2, 175) = 1.67, p > .05, partial η2 = .01), and competence (Mlow competence = 3.26, Mexplanation = 3.05, Mcompensation = 3.54; F (2, 175) = 2.41, p > .05, partial η2 = .01) are not significantly different across conditions. Finally, the perceived surprise of the apology is not different across conditions (Mlow competence = 4.17, Mexplanation = 4.25, Mcompensation = 4.28; F (2, 178) = .234, p > .05, partial η2 = .00).
The ANOVA yields consistent results if run on the whole sample (219 cases).
As in Study 2, we did not consider compensation when estimating the model of moderated mediation. The results of the full model are reported in Web Appendix C.
This gender difference is reflected in our sample too, where females show higher communal orientation than males (Mmales = 4.65, Mfemales = 4.97; t(174) = 2.56, p < .05, d = .39). Running our moderated mediation model, replacing communal orientation with gender we find support for the hypothesized moderation, albeit only at 90% confidence level. The effectiveness of low competence apology is stronger for women than for men. We did not measure social class in our study.
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Antonetti, P., Baghi, I. Projecting lower competence to boost apology effectiveness: Underlying mechanism and boundary conditions. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 51, 695–715 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-022-00903-5