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Apologize Like Apple: What To Do When You Screw Up

David Bosley

Making mistakes isn’t fun. It’s not even close to fun. It’s embarrassing. A big mistake can get you fired — faster in some organizations than in others. Whether your gaffe occurs on Twitter, in person, costs millions and affects your entire customer base or impacts only a few, how your company handles apologies and remediation will be remembered long after the blunder is forgotten. Why do some organizations treat an apology as something painful that must be suffered through instead of an opportunity to build long-term relationships is one of the mysteries of the universe. There are plenty of great examples of apologies, but the recent open letter to Apple customers surpassed an apology and become a marketing phenomenon. See how you can turn a potential negative around by leveraging the same digital marketing techniques that you use every day.

Creating Loyal Customers

Immediate and Heartfelt

The tone of your apology is every bit as important as the tone of your marketing, perhaps even more so. Waiting too long to release an apology causes customers to wonder “What’s going on? Why aren’t they addressing the issue?” If there’s a problem, grab your marketing partners and your PR team and form a strategy — fast. Don’t wait and hope that the problem will blow over (it probably won’t.) Instead, be proactive and you are one step closer to showing your clients that you are invested in their long-term success and not just earning a quick buck. Follow the proscribed format for an apology:

  • Acknowledge customer frustration
  • Take responsibility for the issue
  • Provide a short explanation for what went wrong
  • Tell your customers what you’re doing to fix the issue
  • Apologize explicitly for the inconvenience or lost usage of the product or service
  • Ask for forgiveness

Get the Word Out

It’s not enough to write a letter of apology, send a quick tweet or post a Facebook message. Sure, large organizations such as Apple, Google or Southwest have the social following to get viral reach with their sorry notes almost immediately, but real humans like the rest of us have to work at it. Get creative, and don’t feel tied to a simple text-based letter for your mea culpa. Forbes calls the corporate apology an art form, so why not take it to that point? Take a cue from Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch who took out full-page advertisements in national UK newspapers to apologize for a hacking scandal. Apparently, that didn’t feel strong enough for him — so he then appeared before a British Parliament committee to further his public apology to the British people. His humble personal statements and accountability, as well as the platforms that he chose to share his remorse, went a long way towards bringing customers back to the fold.

Alleviate Ongoing Concerns

The apology letter from Apple regarding battery life is only the latest in a string of apologies that the tech giant has issued. What made this particular note special was the willingness of Apple to admit problems, even addressing issues that were widely rumored such as the concept that Apple bakes in an “expiration date” to their device batteries. Whether or not its true, the explanation was clear and understandable for customers at all levels of technical awareness. This proactive extension followed the marketing strategy of addressing customer concerns and taking recent user feedback into account points to a focus on ongoing relationships between Apple and their customers.

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