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How to win your customers back after you’ve screwed up

We all love to hear about companies that follow responsible business practices, support the community and treat their employees well.

But you know what we love even more?

We love to hear about companies who have made mistakes, own up to them, and are working hard to rectify them. That’s because stories of redemption are profoundly compelling. Especially if they’re done well.

If you want to see one that’s done well, check out Chipotle’s new video, A Love Story, an effort to convince consumers that the fast casual chain’s well-documented struggles are behind them.

The film is more than just a plea to join a rewards program. It’s a moving story that appeals to your emotions.

As Justin Bariso points out in his recent article in Inc.

“With excellent animation, beautiful music, and--most of all--a well-written story, the new film by Chipotle reminds us of why we shouldn't give up on it ... and what makes it different from more traditional fast-food chains.”

Don't just make claims, tell stories

For companies in a situation like Chipotle’s, the temptation is often to rely on statements, claims and data to show how they’re dedicated to improvement. If people see the facts of what we’re doing, the logic goes, then they’ll understand and realize that we’re better citizens.

This is a mistake. Why? It’s defensive. Somehow, it’s less believable.

But most of all, it’s boring. When presented with information like this, consumers quickly lose interest. Maybe the message sinks in, maybe not. But it’s not memorable or engaging, and people aren’t likely to be intrigued enough to see much of the message in the first place.

The Chipotle example is so brilliant because it’s so deeply human. Watching it, you feel like you’re watching a Pixar short. In fact, the film was produced by a Pixar alum.

It’s a beautiful story that touches on themes like love and innocence, ambition and greed, awakening and new beginnings. You can’t help but watch it and pull for the characters.

All the press releases and corporate statements in the world couldn’t do what this film does.

Embrace your past

I believe firmly that while there are many companies who have misplaced priorities or have otherwise acted poorly in the past, among them are very few true scoundrels. We’re all on a journey to be better citizens and stewards of the earth; some of us are just farther along than others.

Still, companies are deathly afraid of admitting past mistakes, and maybe for good reason. In this social media world, critics are all too willing to point them out, fairly or unfairly, and paint corporations as evil and heartless.

The only way to guard against this to not run from your past, but embrace it. Admit your mistakes, show how you’ve learned from them and how you want to get better. Be honest and realistic about the way forward. Your customers, and other important audiences will appreciate your contrition.

The Chipotle film does this brilliantly. Without going into the gory details, it shows how ambition and competition can cause you to cut corners and lose sight of what you set out to be in the first place.

Chipotle understands they can’t hide from their past. So they embrace it.

Tell your story in human terms

Even though companies are run by people, we as consumers simply don’t see them as human, which makes it so easy to criticize and not forgive them. But by telling their stories in human terms, companies make it harder for consumers to see them simply as corporate monoliths.

This is perhaps the best thing that Chipotle did.

The Chipotle film tells the story of two people, Ivan and Evie, who run competing juice stands as kids, and who grow them into huge corporations. It doesn’t tell the story of a Mexican restaurant chain.

It draws the viewer into a heartfelt tale, showing how people, even with the best of intentions, can find themselves so far adrift of their original intentions. The message of the film is very clear.

Another great move by Chipotle is that they don’t reveal their brand and logo until the very end. This allows the viewer to enjoy the film and become wrapped in the story, and Chipotle’s message of “We’re sorry, we messed up, please forgive us,” is much more powerful.

If they would have had the logo at the beginning and said, “This is a story about Chipotle,” viewers would have been turned off from the beginning and may not have watched the whole thing.

Will the Chipotle video work? Will it get consumers to start believing in their mission again and come back to their stores?

Time will tell. Of course, the film alone will not do that. It will need to be backed up by the company’s actions, or else it will just be seen as empty promises.

But if Chipotle has truly turned the corner with its operations, I think this film will have gone a long way toward convincing consumers to come back.

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