Gini Dietrich

Apologies in a Crisis and Other Lessons from Apple

By: Gini Dietrich | October 1, 2012 | 

On Saturday morning, Mr. D and I made our way to Michigan Avenue to visit the flagship Apple store.

I would have preferred the less touristy store in Lincoln Park, but we were there to get his new iPhone 5 and it was where they sent us (in other words, we had no choice).

Because he’s never upgraded his phone (he still had the very first and original iPhone), I didn’t make much of a stink of it because it’s about freaking time.

When we arrived at 9 a.m., the store wasn’t yet open, but they were letting people in who had reserved phones. A full hour before they opened to the public.

I’d heard rumblings that the Apple geeks (geniuses, customer service reps, what are they called?) are no longer allowed to spend more than 20 minutes with a customer, so I was also anxious to test that out.

Just a Rumor?

He had his phone within minutes of arriving, but then Benny (who became our BFF in the next hour and 20 minutes) suggested he do a back-up of his old phone from the cloud and then he sat with us while Mr. D set up his new phone.

It turns out, either because of the amount of money we spent or the rumor wasn’t true, Benny spent an inordinate amount of time with us. He was showing me cool tips and tricks with iOS 6 and, when something wasn’t working properly on my phone, he called over four different geeks to help me.

It was a really great experience, even though I was on Michigan Avenue on a Saturday.

This rumor is being told over and over again in news stories as one of the things Tim Cook has changed since taking over the leadership position at the company. Now, if someone were to come in and kick the tires or want tips and tricks without attending one of the gazillion training sessions each store offers, I can understand putting a limit on how long a geek can spend.

But, as paying customers, it was not something we experienced.

Apologies in a Crisis

Something else interesting is happening with the leadership at Apple. Tim Cook apologized on Friday to Apple customers, fans, and critics for the issues the maps have in the new operating system. Not only did he apologize, he suggested people use Google maps while they figure out the issues.

I’m positive Steve Jobs is rolling over in his grave because of that, but as a communications professional, I appreciate the humility and effectiveness an apology brings.

We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better. While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest, and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

The last time the company faced a crisis was with the launch of the iPhone 4 and its reception issues. Steve Jobs, in his way, refused to admit anything was wrong, let alone apologize.

The Lesson for You

There isn’t a single organization devoid of mistakes. Heck, I run a small organization and even we’ve had cause to apologize from time to time.

You will make a mistake. You will have a customer upset with you. You will miss a social media alert that tells you someone is peeved. You will have customer service issues. You will face a crisis.

The single best thing you can do? Apologize and publicly tell customers what it is you’re going to do to fix the issue. Do not use the word “but” when you make your apology.

Say you’re sorry and we’re going to do X, Y, and Z to fix it.

Apple seems to be learning that lesson. So can you.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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93 responses to “Apologies in a Crisis and Other Lessons from Apple”

  1. GeoffReiner says:

    Great information Gini!
    I too appreciate the authenticity Cook has provided in the last few weeks. His vulnerability and openness to the public shows that even some of the best make mistakes too. And willing to admit it is the first step in creating a loyal community!

  2. KenMueller says:

    Looks like we were sorta on the same wavelength today. I almost used the Apple situation as an example, but didn’t for some reason.

  3. 2twitme says:

    @ginidietrich @spinsucks Thankfully someone in Apple’s Comm team understands The Theory of Corporate Apologia. 🙂

  4. JayDolan says:

    @ginidietrich Finally? They apologized and gave people stuff during Antennagate.

  5. barbsawyers says:

    I love that they didn’t say “sorry, but…” The “but” usually means trying to wiggle out of taking responsibility for the mistake. It’s often part of apologies from businesses, children, criminals and friends. Well done, Apple.

  6. bradmarley says:

    In a way, Steve Jobs set up Apple to fail (or at least take a PR hit) in the long run by taking a hard line stance when it came to not making apologies for Apple products. His my-way-or-the-highway attitude was embraced by the media, the same media who are now ridiculing Tim Cook for apologizing about the poor quality of the maps.
    In the long run, though, no company can stay bulletproof forever. There will come a time when controversy calls for an apology. This is Apple’s time. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t ideal. (When is it?)
    It’s actually quite interesting to watch the reactions. Everyone seems to think Cook would just slide into Jobs’ shoes with no issue. Like that could ever happen.

    •  @bradmarley I’m with you on this, Brad. Steve was definitely a unique leader in a lot of ways. Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, but then who could be other than Steve? 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @bradmarley The thing about Jobs is he did everything wrong and he was successful in spite of it….because he was a genius when it came to marketing products and because he was a perfectionist. So people were willing to give him some leeway. But that doesn’t work for 99% of the rest of the world so Cook is going to have to do things differently. 

      • bradmarley says:

         @ginidietrich But his unorthodox methods became the standard by which all CEOs are measured by. I’d argue that CEOs who aren’t Steve Jobs are viewed as boring and stale. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (I’d much rather handle the latter than the former) but he has made it difficult for the next in line to succeed. And by him not apologizing for Apple, he has made Cook look weak by default.
        It’s going to take some time for Apple to get out from under his shadow, and it might just hurt the company in the long run.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @bradmarley Yes, I totally agree with that. Not all CEOs, but anyone who replaces him and his competitors (think how boring Gates looked next to Jobs). But you’re right – it does create a bad situation for Cook.

  7. magriebler says:

    An apology makes an organization look human and real. And because, at heart, we want to do business with honest-to-goodness people, we will cut a company slack when something goes wrong and they own up to it. (Not too often, of course.) A well-crafted, sincere apology is really PR’s secret weapon. Kudos to Tim Cook. I loved Steve Jobs’ products, but hated the way he treated people … including his customers.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @magriebler Did you read his biography? 

      • magriebler says:

        @ginidietrich No. I bought it and it sits on my night stand. (I’m am old fashioned girl and still prefer paper.) I’m heading out of town so I’ll throw it in my suitcase to force myself to read it.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @magriebler  Read it. It reads like fiction and is really well-written. There will be points where you think, “OK. I get it. He was a jerk.” But the fact that he did things so wrong and built such a great company is pretty impressive. 

        • jelenawoehr says:

           @magriebler  @ginidietrich READ IT READ IT READ IT. Seriously.

        • magriebler says:

           @ginidietrich What’s so fascinating to me about Steve Jobs is that he was the polar opposite of a “people person” in real life yet few developers have understood and enhanced the user experience as well as he did. I love the seamless transition from product to product (well, that’s breaking down a bit now but you know what I mean). I’m OK with the fact that he was a jerk; that’s how he was hard-wired; he was a genius and fairly lopsided in his skill sets. I just wish he could have seen that and delegated that CS/PR functions to someone who actually got the human race.

        • magriebler says:

           @jelenawoehr  @ginidietrich I will: cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. I’ll even write a book report.

  8. Carmelo says:

    What a great change over! Admitting an error? I guess when you’re so focused on competition and so driven by speed-to-market it’s difficult to admit when you screw up but the human-ness of admitting when you made a mistake sure draws people to you. 
    This juxtaposes nicely with my post coming up … where admitting errors or treating customers with respect isn’t in their make up. Personally, I wouldn’t think Apple should go with the 20 minutes per customer idea. Seems to go against what they stand for. 
    Anyway, yeah, nice move on Cook’s part! (And yes, about time he upgraded!!!)

    • ginidietrich says:

       @Carmelo I kind of understand why they’d want to do it IF the person isn’t buying anything. For instance, if you just walked into the store on a Saturday afternoon, expecting someone to sit with you for an hour to show you tips and tricks on your phone. That’s kind of unrealistic. But considering Mr. D isn’t the only one who bought something at the Apple store (most women shop for clothes and shoes and handbags; I buy technology), I was pleased to have Benny spend as much time as he did with us.

      • Carmelo says:

         @ginidietrich Yeah, Gini. That makes sense. It should be a common sense kind of thing. You just don’t want to make an arbitrary “rule” as so many companies do. Trouble is, it can be difficult to teach common sense to some people. it reminds me of Michael Gerber’s “systems” approach where everything you do is a pre-determined system. Some of his stuff is great but that one eludes me on some levels.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @Carmelo I’m with you on Gerber. allenmireles and I were talking this morning about intuition and how it relates to online reputation and crisis management. Unfortunately, not everyone has it.

  9. MSchechter says:

    Nice to see Mr. D getting with the times 🙂 The policy was put into place and killed just as quickly. It was a short sighted moment and Apple quickly realized the mistake (things are still a bit in flux since Ron Johnson left). The new head of retail was trying to cut costs, but the community made it pretty damn clear that this would happen at the expense of the reason people go into Apple stores. 
    I’ve also been impressed by the apology, it also went beyond his words. Go on the App store and see how prevalent other map options are. I worry about maps (and iOS in general) under Scott Forestall, but hopefully this shakes a few things up.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @MSchechter I think it was TechCrunch who said, “We have to remember…Google maps sucked when it first came out, too.”

      • MSchechter says:

         @ginidietrich I don’t think that’s fair either. For one reason or another, Apple (or Google) decided to exit the deal leaving customers with a worse map app than they had the day before. And if that was going to be the case, Apple should have set expectations properly. Or better yet, should have found a better solution.

        • MSchechter says:

           @ginidietrich (and yes, I know they need live data to improve, but still…)

        • edgarrr says:

          Apple actually left users with a better Maps app in a number of ways (Google’s pixel graphics are a HUGE impediment to making them faster or even usable in cell dead zones). 
          Google had the same problems, for the exact same reasons. People drove into lakes and hedges because Google Maps told them there was a road there. 
          And anyone calling Apple’s Maps unusable or even close to it are massively overdramatizing.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @edgarrr  @MSchechter I agree. I was in NJ last week and used the maps for the first time and had no problem with the app.

        • MSchechter says:

           @edgarrr  @ginidietrich Yeah… see here’s the thing. My driving directions with Google were never an issue. GPS has been a real problem for me in Brooklyn. In a single drive I was asked to turn into a blocked off street and asked to make 12 illegal u-turns. I’m not saying they wont fix the problem, but to an extent the fact that this shipped is a problem. 
          Do the maps have benefits over Google? Yes, but sound mapping data and usable directions in many areas aren’t two of them. And those are pretty big issues… 
          When I was away from home a week ago, the maps were great (there were a few missed turns, but nothing terrible), this weekend at home, I used them just to get a feeling for how they were, the results were awful. 
          The other essential part of your comment was that Google HAD these issues. In a week, hundreds upon hundreds of posts have been added to a site showing things in Apple maps that are absolutely wrong, to the point of comedy where a comparable Google site had about ten posts in the last year… and they’ve been using Google’s maps for some time now. 
          I know part of that falls to the level of expectation of Apple, but frankly, that’s the expectation they want consumers to have of them and in this case, they failed.

  10. I saw that! I was stunned with the ever-so-necessary apology in addition to the newscasters not letting Steve Jobs RIP without the comparative analogy to current leadership. 
    So, you gonna share the iOs6 tips? I’m on already and I see some of the cool  new features, but tips and tricks from the guru herself…give it up, Girl.

  11. CherylScoffield says:

    RT @Clarity4theBoss: Everyone makes mistakes but few leverage learning 2 build customer #engagement Tks @ginidietrich

  12. belllindsay says:

    How sad that we all are so agog over an apology. I mean, I *get* it. But really, it says something about the state of big business, doesn’t it? 
    What I love most about this is Cook telling people to us Google maps. Now *that* took some balls. 
    And tell Mr. D that I’m still using an IPhone 3 – sigh. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @belllindsay I think so, too! I’m really impressed by the way he’s handling these kinds of things. I think Jobs grew a business we’re all envious of, but Cook will take better care of its customers.

      • belllindsay says:

         @ginidietrich Jobs was never much of a “people person” LOL 

        • HowieG says:

           @belllindsay  @ginidietrich you would think a guy who did that much LSD in his young life would be a lot nicer to the general public. I think Jerry Garcia is yelling at him right now….telling him how Heaven Maps sucks and when will it be fixed.

  13. RebeccaTodd says:

    Wait, I can’t continue reading- Mr. D got a 5?!? Wowzer! Has he been iMessaging constantly? Did he also get a calculator, or is he still on the abacus?

  14. bdorman264 says:

    Never drop the ‘but’ in there or you might as well not say it……..
    Apology accepted but the iOS 6 maps was really sub-standard……..I mean really? Apple? C’mon man…………
    Oh well, we can’t all be perfect like you, huh? You set the standard………..:)

  15. I think the apology has almost completely defused the situation.  As a hardcore Apple fangirl, I actually GOT LOST over the weekend because of the “map debacle” of 2012.  This is also a lesson in how forgiving your passionate fans can be, even if you fall flat on your face, as long as you show empathy.

  16. clarinette02 says:

    @ginidietrich Funnily enough I was at Apple store, that side of the pound, on Sunday at a Genius Bar appt for my daughter’s laptop battery.

  17. clarinette02 says:

    @ginidietrich the battery was diagnosed dead by Apple Care, they still tested. I was told I had only20′. They cld not look at software issue

  18. clarinette02 says:

    Apple Warranty Ads Should Be Examined in EU, Reding Says cc @ginidietrich

  19. There are very few proven methods of wreaking havoc and the refusal to apologize ranks right up there.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @thejoshuawilner I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. I will not be a smart aleck in this comment. 

  20. jelenawoehr says:

    This post reminds me of a woman who wrote a commentary piece for my local paper a few years ago, about medical mistakes and the power of apology. She had almost died due to a surgeon’s error, and the surgeon (disobeying orders from a liability-averse hospital administrator) visited her to apologize as soon as she was conscious. He explained that he’d been ordered not to apologize because it would be admitting fault and creating liability, but that he felt he couldn’t let her lay in the hospital bed recovering and wondering if the surgeon even felt any compunction for his mistake. The patient forgave the surgeon, didn’t sue, and used her own story to illustrate that apologies are a powerful part of the healing process.
    The analogy here: A bad map isn’t likely to kill you, but it does reach out of your gadget into your life and really ruin your day. It’s “breaking the fourth wall,” so to speak. People expect not to be perfectly happy with their smart devices at all times, but they also expect that the inevitable issues be limited to issues within the device. It’s a rare and massive gadget problem that actually messes up your real life by failing to perform as expected. Cook owed Apple customers an apology because the problem had overstepped the ordinary, forgivable bounds of a tech bug, and gone so far as to leave iPhone users lost in real life. Like the surgeon who couldn’t make such a big mistake and let his patient just wonder if he even knew he’d almost killed her, Cook couldn’t let customers wonder if Apple cared that it had broken into their real lives and gotten them lost.

  21. edgarrr says:

    Keep in mind that Tim Cook didn’t say Apple made a mistake with Maps, because they didn’t.
    As has been pointed out, the data set in a map app is so huge it’s impossible to debug on the development side. Apple NEEDS users to report issues in their localities. Google Maps had the exact same issues when it was launched.
    And neither did Cook tell users to use other apps — he suggested that if you’re really unhappy with Apple’s Maps right now that you try something else that might make you happier.
    Funny how simply saying you’re sorry and recommending common sense can make people happier, regardless of the situation.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @edgarrr The quote I pulled above is from their website. So, while it doesn’t say, “Hey, drop us and head on over to something else,” it does suggest alternatives while they’re figuring out the issues. This is HUGE in crisis communications. It deflates the story before there is one.

  22. ginidietrich says:

    @TaraGeissinger I <3 Apple, too!

  23. I also think Phil Schiller (Apple CMO) owes his shareholders an apology as well… I mean who doesn’t respond to an unsolicited email from someone ready to hand deliver their next big marketing campaign. Some people…

    • ginidietrich says:

       @SociallyGenius LOL! Let’s see what we can do about that.

      • HowieG says:

         @ginidietrich  @SociallyGenius I called Apple and asked why no comment here in Spin Sucks. The CFO said Spin Sucks readers are the 47% who buy our crap no matter what it is. That they want to over pay and be addicted to free apps and bare bones service. They are focusing on the 53% who pay for apps and don’t whine when an antenna stops working. I have this on tape btw.

  24. Carmelo says:

    Hey Gini, short story on Steve Jobs (since several are saying what a people person he wasn’t)
    Back in 1983 when living at Lake Tahoe and just starting out as a commissioned stock broker my wife took a few jobs as a baby-sitter.  She baby-sat for Woz’s and Steve’s kids a few times when they came up to Tahoe for a weekend.
    She liked Woz okay but when I asked if Steve was nice she just sort of shrugged and matter-of-factly said “no.” I think he did learn a few things along the way. But, he WAS pretty much Steve Jobs to the end. Too bad she didn’t get paid with stock 😉

  25. rdopping says:

    Gini, I am really sorry for the comment I am about to make. 
    Janine got a new IPhone from here employer a few weeks ago (4, I think) and she went to an Apple Store to have them transfer her contacts from here Blackberry (first mistake). They refused to help her. Only in Canada, huh? She went to her service provider’s local retailer and they did the transfer for her so no big deal but the way she was treated at Apple was weird. No apology there, Just, we can’t help you. Next customer please, Clowns.
    Anyway, apologizing for your mistakes show integrity. Plain and simple. If you refuse to admit an error and don’t have time to offer a fix then there is no way I would want to do business with you. So, kudos to Tim Cooke. Guess we just got a rotten one out of the bunch. Ha.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @rdopping That’s so weird. Totally against what they stand for…or should behave. It’s such a simple thing they should help their customers do.

      • HowieG says:

         @ginidietrich  @rdopping Gini Apple stands for ‘Crush your competitor. Anyone who uses a competitors product can go f off and die’. That is the heart of steve jobs. It is why they refused Google Voice for so long or now with Maps.
        Not sure I can blame em for being cocky. But this comes around. In 2032 they will be bought by Bain Capital and sold off in pieces I am pretty sure.

        • rdopping says:

           @HowieG  @ginidietrich Geez Howie. Wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Guess I will start buying Bain stock now.

      • rdopping says:

         @ginidietrich Yeah, we know. Maybe the stock dipped that day. Who knows.

  26. jrick says:

    @Frank_Strong @ginidietrich As it happens, I wrote about the same subject this morning, for @FastCompany –

  27. davidsvet says:

    @NancyIannone @ginidietrich Thank you, ladies. Much appreciated. Nancy, it’s good to hear from you!

    • NancyIannone says:

      @davidsvet Thanks Dave. Haven’t been around Twitter as much lately, but still lurking. Hope all is well with you.

  28. HowieG says:

    I found the apology amusing and actually sad. Instead of being honest and saying ‘We block google maps because they are our big competitor in phones, so you have to settle for our crappy knock off version which will get better or use the web versions of map quest or bing maps because apple users don’t deserve to have the choice to use what is best on your phone. Thank you for your money.

    • rdopping says:

       @HowieG ….apple users don’t deserve to have the choice to use what is best on your phone……love that line. Or how about use what’s best for you? 

  29. mikegodleman says:

    @jkcallas Thanks for sharing, Jure. @ginidietrich Good post: how Apple can put customer service on the map when it tries.

  30. …and now the universe sends us a new case study:
    I think the apology portion is good…the fact that she gave her real name and took full responsibility is the right thing to do (although it wasn’t immediate).  However, the incident itself might be pointing to a less than ideal hiring and training process…

  31. meetmikemorgan says:

    @SEOtherapy Thanks very much for the RT Linda!

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