There are few things Apple can do without making headlines. And a public mea culpa by the company definitely ranks up there in news-worthiness.
Ever since Apple released Tim Cook’s letter apologizing for the less than stellar performance of its new Maps app, the letter has become a trending topic on both the Twitterverse and blogosphere. A Washington Post blog hailed it as ‘a rare and candid apology’ surrounding ‘a wildy successful product’, but other analysts and bloggers have questioned whether Cook was too quick to fall on his sword. And since any discussion involving Apple can never be complete without a mention of its late founder, a few speculated on what Steve Jobs would have done.
Despite this, the letter received high marks overall for tone and content. Even if is really designed to be a simple expression of regret, the corporate apology can be a complex letter to draft. Timed and expressed well, it can neutralize some of the negativity resulting from a crisis. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, however, it could be viewed as a self-serving or weak attempt to bolster one’s PR standing.
Different companies have handled it differently, as is evident from this list of famous CEO apologies. When Facebook came under heavy criticism, in 2006, for its man-handling of users’ privacy, Mark Zuckerberg dashed out a letter to the community that simply began: ‘We really messed this one up.’ In similar situations, other companies have used more conventional language to express how sorry they were.
If we were to analyse a few examples (including Cook’s), we would find that these letters largely follow a pattern. An effective apology letter should:
1) Start by setting the context and explaining the situation or problem
2) Own up to the company’s role in causing or aggravating the problem
3) Acknowledge the resulting pain for those most affected by it
4) Include a straightforward apology without any (or too many) excuses
5) Explain the company’s proposed solution or course of action to address the problem
This is not rocket science but it may not always be easy to put together a letter that is strong on all of these aspects. But a genuine, heartfelt apology is a great starting point to making things right. At the end of the day, it serves to remind people that companies are made of human beings and human beings do make mistakes.