Experts scrutinize 2009’s most notable IT apologies

T-Mobile and Microsoft Sidekick apology. Rating: 8.8

The T-Mobile-Microsoft apology was among the strongest of those reviewed by the team. The strength of the apology was related to the time and effort devoted to carefully explaining how Microsoft was going to fix the problem for Sidekick users, followed by a detailed list of the steps already taken to avoid the same problem in the future. Data breach apologies are particularly damaging because clients have assigned so much faith, trust and confidence in Microsoft and T-Mobile to save and secure their personal data. Any failure to protect that data inevitably damages the trust required to retain customers for their product. The rapid restoration of personal data certainly helped, as did the measures taken to enhance future security measures and backup plans, but a few more words conveying at least some appreciation for the effects of lost access to personal data would have gone a long way towards personalizing the apology.

Belkin apology for commissioned reviews. Rating: 8.5

Belkin's admission that one of its employees actually commissioned positive reviews of one of its network products offers another good illustration of a strong apology. The President (Mark Reynoso) clearly acknowledges the importance of the error, and addresses the potential harm this caused -- "We know that people look to online user reviews for unbiased opinions from fellow users and instances like this challenge the implicit trust that is placed in this interaction. We regard our responsibility to our user community as sacred, and we are extremely sorry that this happened." This was followed by a description of the solutions -- "We've acted swiftly to remove all associated postings from the Mechanical Turk system. We're working closely with our online channel partners to ensure that any reviews that may have been placed due to these postings have been removed." Reynoso's apology was noteworthy not only for acknowledging the damage to the company's reputation, but for appreciating the implications for the larger online community and the credibility of web-based reviews of tech products. Accepting this additional measure of responsibility was impressive.

Rackspace apology for cloud outage. Rating: 6

The Rackspace apology to thousands of customers for yet another outage was certainly lengthy, but there are diminishing returns, even for strong apologies, if the same problems recur. A promise to avoid the same mistake in the future carries less weight each time. Unless the outages stop, subsequent failures, no matter how minor, are likely to produce a more significant and negative backlash from customers. Repeated apologies, no matter how detailed and sincere, will be less and less effective over time. In this case, it would have helped to add a few more details about what caused this particular outage if only to distinguish the events. The effects may be the same, but differentiating apologies will help avoid the impression that the problem can't be fixed.

Major League Baseball Web video apology. Rating: 4

MLB's apology for technical problems with its fee-based game video-streaming service was not great -- "Apologies for the lack of communication. There were many fires and we were off working on them and didn't man the blog." The apology was about as close as you can get to saying "s--- happens." The "lack of communication" was really only one small part of the problem, but it was unintentionally reinforced by the apology itself. The MLB video team failed to communicate the nature of the problem, failed to convince users they understood it, and failed to provide any indication that they knew how to resolve it -- "We have a lot more to do still to get the [media] player to perform in a more stable manner across the board." There is no clear indication of what "a lot more" actually means, or what measures they plan to take to manage the recurring errors (e.g., instant blog updates; specific tech fixes; some form of compensation or credit for down time; etc.).

Tags PepsiGoogleMajor League Baseballamazon kindleMicrosoftRadisson Hotelt-mobile2009VMware

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Bob Brown

Network World

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