Experts scrutinize 2009’s most notable IT apologies

VMware exec apology to Microsoft. Rating 4.5

Scott Drummonds' apology for anonymously posting a misleading (and excessively optimistic) YouTube video praising a Microsoft product failed on several levels. He apologizes for damaging VMware and Microsoft's credibility, but he implied in his apology that only "some" people may have found reason to be concerned about the company's credibility. The practice of fabricating positive reviews to exaggerate the quality or performance of any product would be viewed by anyone with a conscience as a serious mistake. Yet Drummonds seems to be apologizing only to those few, with ethical higher standards, who may have been offended. He should have taken full responsibility for a much larger breach of trust. Instead, he simply describes the error without ever addressing the more important issue of the credibility of online reviews -- Drummonds should take lessons from Belkin's 8.5 apology. Keep in mind, Drummonds was not aggressively pushing a product because it was good and deserved the exposure; he was exaggerating the quality of the product by claiming a level of performance it could not meet. This is a more significant breach of trust that should have been acknowledged in the apology.

Dancer "Woz" apology. Rating 9

The PA team was surprised by its decision to assign the highest rating (approaching perfection) for the apology delivered by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak -- he mistakenly criticized Dancing With The Stars producers for fabricating audience voting results. In addition to clearly conveying honest regret and remorse for his actions, Woz managed in his apology to elevate the respect people have for those he hurt, while simultaneously establishing a higher measure of credibility for the technology used by DWTS to tally results. In other words, the apology left the situation better for those he hurt and improved impressions people have of the show he originally criticized. The heartfelt endorsement by Woz, a widely respected and incredibly successful technology expert, went well beyond anything the show's producers could have accomplished on their own. In sum, this brief letter accomplished more ‘good' than the ‘harm' created by the original insult.

Google apology for Gmail outage. Rating: 8.5

Google's apology for the Gmail outage was another in a long line of apologies Google seems to be issuing lately. The apology certainly acknowledges the impact of the two-and-a-half hour outage -- "We know that for many of you this disrupted your working day. We're really sorry about this, and we did do everything to restore access as soon as we could….We know how important Gmail is to you, and how much people rely on the service." But a slightly more detailed description of some of the effects would have helped to personalize the experience for tens of thousands of users. Saying "We're really sorry about this" is a little brief. Of course, Google is in a class by itself given its expanding complex of varied products and services. But there is a concern that the apologies are become standardized -- repeatedly issuing very brief "outage" or "delay" apologies will do little to convey sincerity or a commitment to deal with the problems. Customer retention strategies tied to effective business apologies are essential for the survival of any company, even giants like Google. Standard Operating Apologies are never likely to work for very long.

Radisson Hotel apology for data breach. Rating: 7.8

This was a strong, proactive apology that managed to get right to the heart of the matter by accepting full (and early) responsibility for the data breach. The company also clearly acknowledged the effects on clients' trust and rights to privacy. The apology goes on to list several very specific correctives to avoid similar errors in the future. However, the PA team thought the hotel could have provided a token gesture by offering some form compensation for anyone clearly and directly affected by the breach -- credit towards their next stay, for example. Very few of the guests were likely affected by the breach, so this small (inexpensive) offer would have gone a long way.

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Bob Brown

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