What’s an apology worth in the world of business and marketing?
I received an unusual email the other day. It was an apology note from Posterous (where this blog resides) for their service difficulties experienced last week due to some pernicious Denial of Service attacks (here’s a link to the Official Posterous Posterous blog that contains the same apology note). It’s a sincere, open, direct apology for problems on their end.
On the one hand, it wasn’t all that unusual. But, at the same time, it was. Confused? You won’t be. Let me take just a marketing minute to explain this paradox (and how an apology can be a good engagement strategy).
No Big News, But Big News
On one level, I don’t find it unusual to receive an apology from someone…it’s standard etiquette. Isn’t that what our parents, pre-school teachers, elementary school teachers, guidance counselors, college counselors, bosses and shrinks have told us for years? You goof up, you ‘fess up and say you’re sorry. The same goes for companies and brands that screw up. Bottom line, a sincere “I’m sorry” sure helps the relationship and seems like the right thing to do.
On the other hand, how often do we NOT receive an apology when someone or some company causes us problems we never asked for? I can’t recall Mark Zuckerberg ever saying, “I’m sorry that I trampled on your privacy and tried to turn you all into retail shills based on your online purchases.” (remember Beacon?) Steve Jobs? “Oh, that iPhone connection thing…did you want that to actually work as a PHONE?!” (The man is brilliant, but I doubt the words “sorry” and “apology” are in the version of the English language he speaks) *
And, how do you feel when you’re treated like that? Even for those with healthy self-esteem, it feels like we’ve been treated poorly. It’s annoying and disappointing enough when that happens in “real life.” When it happens in business, it smacks of arrogance (for lack of a better word). And, some of our “technology leaders” seem to have created a whole new level of arrogance that disconnects them from their “real world” customers. But, as Posterous shows us, that’s not necessary.
Bad Things Can Lead to Good Engagements
That’s why I found this apology note so refreshing. With this one little note, Posterous not only apologized, but gave me some insight as to what happened and how they dealt with this unpredictable mini-catastrophe. Having worked in young tech companies, I could relate to the pain (and lack of sleep) they must have personally experienced. I could feel their anxiety and sweat, feel the wheels turning in their brains as they tried to solve this problem. And, here they were, apologizing to me for falling victim to an aggressive, senseless attack on their system.
The irony is…I didn’t even know about this problem as I’d been off Posterous for a while tending to other life matters. I missed the whole “disaster.” But, in some ways, my obliviousness made me appreciate their apology all the more because of their honest admission and sincere contrition.
The net of all this: Posterous ENGAGED me. Maybe it wasn’t part of an “engagement strategy,” but the outcome sure felt like engagement on my end. And, maybe that’s the ultimate strategy in our ever-evolving social world…maybe the best engagement occurs when we’re not trying to engage others for strategic reasons, but are just being honest and true to ourselves, our brands, our company values. That brings to life and makes an overused phrase like "transparency" real and meaningful.
This “non-strategy strategy” seems to have worked for Posterous. Their sincere mea culpa has turned me into a bigger fan than ever. They’ve made a fan for life, created a cheerleader and advocate just by saying: “we’re sorry”…and, meaning it (okay, it helps to have a good product, too!).
Hmm…deeply engaging your audience and customer base in a way that creates appreciative, loyal, vocal ambassadors for your brand. Does that sound like something of value in today’s business world? What business or marketing leader wouldn't want that for their brand?
So, now, let me ask you…how are YOU treating YOUR customers?
P.S. As an appreciative, loyal, vocal ambassador, I encourage all of you bloggers and potential bloggers to check out Posterous (if you haven’t already). It’s a great, easy to use service with excellent features that are getting better every week. And, it’s run by people who really care about their customers…for real. They deserve your business.
* Author's Note - I don't know Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs personally or professionally. So, if I mis-stated or mis-characterized what appears to me, an outside observer, as arrogant or unconcerned behavior on their part toward their many customers, I sincerely apologize. In fact, I'd be happy to buy you guys lunch to talk it over if you think it would help clear the air. Let me know.