2009's Most Memorable IT Apologies

Rackspace apology for cloud outage. Rating: 6

The Rackspace apology to thousands of customers for yet another outage was certainly lengthy, but there are diminishing returns, even for strong apologies, if the same problems recur. A promise to avoid the same mistake in the future carries less weight each time. Unless the outages stop, subsequent failures, no matter how minor, are likely to produce a more significant and negative backlash from customers. Repeated apologies, no matter how detailed and sincere, will be less and less effective over time. In this case, it would have helped to add a few more details about what caused this particular outage if only to distinguish the events. The effects may be the same, but differentiating apologies will help avoid the impression that the problem can't be fixed.

Major League Baseball Web video apology. Rating: 4

MLB's apology for technical problems with its fee-based game video-streaming service was not great -- "Apologies for the lack of communication. There were many fires and we were off working on them and didn't man the blog." The apology was about as close as you can get to saying "s--- happens." The "lack of communication" was really only one small part of the problem, but it was unintentionally reinforced by the apology itself. The MLB video team failed to communicate the nature of the problem, failed to convince users they understood it, and failed to provide any indication that they knew how to resolve it -- "We have a lot more to do still to get the [media] player to perform in a more stable manner across the board." There is no clear indication of what "a lot more" actually means, or what measures they plan to take to manage the recurring errors (e.g., instant blog updates; specific tech fixes; some form of compensation or credit for down time; etc.).

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.

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