Public apologies have become something of a mandatory response for leaders of large companies when they foul-up big time.
But not all apologies are created equal. Winning back the trust of consumers today requires more than a boilerplate statement that simply acknowledges mistakes were made.
So what separates a sincere apology from an unconvincing attempt at public contrition? Here are three corporate apologies from 2015 that business owners can learn from.
1. Mad-Libs Template.
On Monday, Reddit CEO Ellen Pao apologized for the abrupt firing of a popular employee, a decision that led to many volunteer moderators shutting down large portions of the site. In a Reddit post entitled "We apologize," Pao wrote:
"We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years. We haven't communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes."
While Pao used blunt language like "screwed up," she didn't address the firing specifically and also referenced mistakes made by the company's previous leaders. As one Reddit commenter pointed out, the apology felt like it was "written by HR and vetted for plausible deniability by Legal."
2. Too Little, Too Late.
In June, Shigehisa Takada, the CEO of Takata--whose faulty airbags have been cited in eight deaths and hundreds of auto accident injuries--apologized publicly for the harm his company's products caused. Takada said he was sorry "for people who died or were injured" and expressed regret that his products hurt people "despite the fact that we are a supplier of safety products." Unfortunatley, the apology took way too long to happen and didn't address whether the company would assume financial responsibility by offering compensation to victims.
“His apology was definitely overdue,” Sydney Finkelstein, professor at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, told The Huffington Post. “This has been going on for a while and he was nowhere to be found.”
3. Fast Action.
Apple demonstrated that actions still speak louder than words. In response to Taylor Swift boycotting the company's new music streaming service after the company said it wouldn't pay artists during a three-month trial period, Apple made a quick fix by reversing the policy and announcing the change on Twitter.
#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period--Eddy Cue (@cue) June 22, 2015
The lesson for business owners? If you can fix the problem fast enough, you may be able to skip the apology altogether.