“I’m sorry.” Two tiny words. Two tiny words that said the right way can help repair broken trust, and said incorrectly can burn bridges forever.
Business school didn’t teach me the art and science of how to apologize appropriately and effectively. (That’s something life and server outages have drilled into me.) Judging from some of the corporate apologies we’ve seen recently, we all have a lot still to learn.
Today, we’ll look at three examples of truly terrible ways to apologize. Next time, we’ll discuss the elements of a truly great apology–and see if the major outage we had this week on the product I lead yields any lessons that could benefit product managers who finds themselves in a similar situation.
As Ben at MailChimp points out, server problems are embarrassing, interruptive, and happen to everybody. The question is, how to properly address them…
Some Truly Terrible Ways To Say, “I’m Sorry”
What makes up a truly terrible apology?
Hosting service Dreamhost accidentally over-billed nearly all of its customers in early 2008. This made their customers angry. Josh at Dreamhost blogged about the problem once it was uncovered, and provided a very detailed recount of what had happened. But chose a humorous tone in his apology, which–not surprisingly–didn’t sit well with over-billed customers who wanted to be taken seriously.
Hint: Any time you plan to include a picture of Homer Simpson with your apology — that’s a strong indicator that you’re heading for #apologyfail.
Pepsi released an iPhone app recently that helped guys brag about their sexual escapades. When Pepsi was labeled sexist, they pulled the app and tweeted what could be the most embarrassing corporate apology I’ve ever seen:
Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail
First, they’re using text speak, which is simply an inappropriate language choice–a good apology demands a certain level of respect for the audience. Second, their apology has no empathy–there’s no indication they feel your pain–and lacks even a trace of them taking responsibility for their actions–they didn’t do anything wrong; it’s your fault for not having a sense of humor. Thirdly, they hashtagged their apology.
Nothing says “I’m sorry” better than self-referential metadata.
Apologizing in person to people you’ve hurt might seem like a tremendous act of contrition…
Unless you’ve essentially swindled millions of dollars out of hard-working students for your business that’s about to declare bankruptcy. If that’s the case, your dogeza apology is going to be rejected because it doesn’t fit the circumstances: These customers don’t want bows, they want their money back.
Those are three examples of truly terrible apologies. Have more? Please share them in the comments.
Next time, we’ll discuss the elements of a truly great apology. And see what we can learn from the experience I had apologizing to thousands of confused, angry, and irritated customers earlier this week…