It's really not difficult to say, "I’m sorry." But getting companies to say it – and mean it – is sometimes akin to turning water into wine.
I’m really sick of companies that step on consumers' toes, issue non-apology apologies and then act like everything is alright. To me, a real apology sounds like this: "We made a mistake. We’re sorry, and we won’t do it again." Simple. But that’s not what we recently got from Facebook and T-Mobile.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that consumer-oriented companies will do better in the long run if they fess up to their mistakes and build customer trust, even if it means short-term embarrassment or a temporary hit to the bottom line.
Let’s start with Facebook, the tech world’s all-time serial apologist. Late last month, we learned that the company was manipulating the news feeds of more than half a million unsuspecting users as part of an experiment. Facebook’s in-house data science team carried out the project, it said, as a way to examine the "emotional impact of Facebook" on its users. Naturally, there was quite a bit of upset, and COO Sheryl Sandberg eventually apologized…sort of.
"So we clearly communicated really badly about this and that we really regret," she said in an interview aired on India's NDTV. "We are in communication with regulators all over the world, and this will be OK and we will continue to make sure users understand that we care about their privacy."
Note the phrase: “Communicated really badly.” She didn’t say Facebook is sorry. She didn’t say it was an egregious violation of the trust users have (for some reason) placed in Facebook or that her company won’t do it again. That’s like using a really ugly world to describe someone and then saying you're sorry if you offended anyone – as opposed to saying, “I shouldn’t have said that, and I’m sorry.”
You’d think that by now Facebook execs would know how to apologize, since they do it so often. (This interesting piece in The New York Times recounts a decade of Facebook apologies.)
Now let’s talk about T-Mobile. Last week the FTC alleged that the wireless carrier made hundreds of millions of dollars from bogus premium text-messaging charges wrongfully billed to customers, a tactic called "cramming."
Here’s T-Mo CEO John Legere's response, from a blog post title "Doing Right By Customers:
“We have seen the complaint filed today by the FTC and find it to be unfounded and without merit,” writes Legere. “In fact T-Mobile stopped billing for these Premium SMS services last year and launched a proactive program to provide full refunds for any customer that feels that they were charged for something they did not want.”
Let’s parse that. Legere says the complaint is unfounded. Fair enough. An allegation doesn’t mean the company is guilty. But then he says, T-Mobile stopped billing for those services last year. Really? If it’s wrong now, wasn’t it wrong last year? But the ever-combative CEO doesn’t say that. Nor does he say that he’ll find a way to refund those charges.
C’mon, John. You’re acting like a spoiled kid. T-Mobile styles itself the “uncarrier” and says it carries the banner for consumers. It should act like it.