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Gini Dietrich

Apologies in a Crisis and Other Lessons from Apple

By: Gini Dietrich | October 1, 2012 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

93 comments
mikegodleman
mikegodleman

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

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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.

davidsvet
davidsvet

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

jrick
jrick

@Frank_Strong @ginidietrich As it happens, I wrote about the same subject this morning, for @FastCompany - http://t.co/A6imq2rc

rdopping
rdopping

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.

Carmelo
Carmelo

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 ;-)

 

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

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...

edgarrr
edgarrr

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.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

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.

clarinette02
clarinette02

@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

clarinette02
clarinette02

@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.

rosemaryoneill
rosemaryoneill

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.

bdorman264
bdorman264

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...........:)

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

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?

NancyIannone
NancyIannone

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @jelenawoehr @ginidietrich  Malcolm Gladwell uses a related factoid about physicians' bedside manner and how that is the prime indicator of whether they get sued -- not whether how well or poorly they perform. (Tipping Point, maybe?) 

 

Honesty and humility are hard to beat as business practices. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @rosemaryoneill Totally agree. It's always in how you handle the issues. Your fans will always be forgiving. After all, we're all just human.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @RebeccaTodd He hasn't figured out iMessaging yet. He's more astounded with how fast he can Google something and play Words with Friends.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @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.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @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.

KateNolan
KateNolan

 @ginidietrich  @RebeccaTodd Here I was thinking I was Luddite with my 3GS and now I've been proven wrong. Hopefully not all the founding owners update so I can retain some (smidgen of) cred.

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @RebeccaTodd  @ginidietrich Ever since she got that TV gig as Bones, she's been full of herself........other than that, she's pretty humble...........:)