Proof Positive Part 3: How to Handle Public Apologies

In the first two installments of our Proof Positive series we looked at the consequences of negative language and preventing social media firestorms. In the third, we review ways to apologize, when called for, without making the situation worse.

Sometimes, our best efforts and all of the tips in the world can’t prevent a serious error. After reviewing all of the advice in this series, if you are still in trouble, be ready to apologize publicly.

iphone meme

Solve the problem by directing complainants to your competitors.

In 2012, Apple Inc. launched Maps, its own interactive mapping application with much fan-fair. However, the app directed them to incorrect locations and included locations that did not exist. User responded to the errors by ranting their frustration on social media and tech blog and review sites. For this was a huge failure.

Within nine days Apple’s launch Apple’s C.E.O. Tim Cook, had expressed deep regret. He stated Apple had inconvenienced the public and that it would do everything it could do to fix Maps. In the meantime he suggested, that users go to his competitors, such as Google Maps, loading them on the start-screen of their iPhones. By directing users to the solution, he solved the problem and reminding them to do it with their iPhones, he further cemented the brand’s goal of providing the best hardware in the world.

 

Get to the root cause and be 100% transparent.

Mary Barra headshotWhen General Motors C.E.O. Mary Barra took on the job in January 2014, controversy came with it. The auto maker was embattled in the wake of the 75 fatal incidents caused by faulty ignition switches. Barra initiated a full investigation, which determined the deaths were caused by a culture of incompetence in the workforce rather than a single isolated issue, and began her four-step PR plan to rectify the situation. First, she released her internal investigation to the public in an effort to remain completely transparent and took full responsibility for the issue.

Then she terminated the 15 employees that her report found responsible for the error, built a new program to promote whistle-blowing, and actively chose not to fight lawsuits related to injuries the switches caused. She didn’t just verbalize an apology on behalf of GM in a statement, she displayed the company’s remorse in her actions. In doing this, Barra insulated herself from criticism, provided consultation to those harmed and took control of the story.

In both instances leaders remained accountable, displayed empathy and took action quickly.



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