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How to remove bad apples from the barrel

All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel, or so they say. While I’ve never owned a barrel of apples, much less seen one in real life, it doesn’t take a farmer to understand the phrase.

It means that one negative “thing” often negatively affects every other “thing” it touches. Whether that thing is a bad attitude, a poor customer experience or—literally—rotten produce, that bad apple is real pain in the bunch. Let’s think of a few examples:

That apple is the reason we can’t pass through airport security without taking off our shoes. That apple leaves a bad Yelp review for a restaurant and puts all of the glowing reviews in question. That apple sells us a counterfeit concert ticket and causes us to lose faith in strangers on Craigslist (although maybe for good reason). That apple can turn fans of a popular burrito chain green around the gills. That apple can also get lost in the mail, putting a supplier’s business in turmoil, or conversely costing a buyer hours and hours of lost productivity.

In other words, these bad apples cause friction in our work and in our personal lives. More than that, however, they rob us of the implicit trust that we have for certain people, companies and institutions.

But this begs the question: If one bad apple has so much power, can one good apple have the same, but opposite, effect? Does one exceptionally wonderful apple have the ability to offset the rotten ones?

I can think of one particular instance when my experience with a cable company-who-shall-not-be-named was so offensive that I swore I’d never patronize them again, only to have a representative go out of his way to fully recompense my troubles, treating me with the utmost respect throughout our interaction. He removed the friction from my frustrating situation, and eventually the company amended the policy that caused my headache in the first place, somewhat restoring my trust in them to deliver on their brand promise (it’s an ongoing process).

So, I have a feeling that the response to bad apples is twofold—source and remove the tree producing them, and then replace it with a better variety, making for a more delicious environment on the whole.

Is that a reasonable conclusion? Have you ever had a “good apple” remove the effects of a bad one?


About the author

Connie O'Brien

As CMO, Connie is responsible for the Tungsten Network brand and ensuring the firm is at the forefront of the digital transformation of the purchase-to-pay process, with a focus on how we delight our customers through automated, scalable, dynamic and personalised experiences. Connie joined Tungsten from Affinion Group, an international membership and loyalty company where she was Chief Digital Officer. She has over twenty years’ experience driving digital marketing strategies for businesses, and has delivered campaigns for brands including GlaxoSmithKline, P&G, Kraft Foods, AXA, John Hancock, AT&T, Vonage and Verizon.

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