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Effectively Apologizing to Consumers After a Crisis: Psychological Distance and Abstractness/Concreteness of an Organization's Apology

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1521/soco.2020.38.4.367

Companies hit by a crisis of corporate misconduct typically need to issue a public apology to minimize reputational damage, negative word-of-mouth, and declining purchases. What such an apology should ideally convey, abstract or concrete information, remains up for debate. Working from construal-level theory, we test a contingency perspective on organizational apology effectiveness. According to construal-level theory, concretely formulated apologies are more effective when the apologizing company is psychologically near to (versus far away from) an apology-recipient. Second, abstractly formulated apologies are more effective when the apologizing company is psychologically far away from (versus near to) an apology-recipient. We found support for these hypotheses in three experiments (and provide a meta-analytic mean of both effects). In order to optimize effectiveness, apologies should be tailored to account for the psychological distance to the apology-recipient.

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