Women: Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you.Gag. Sqoot fairly quickly realized they had walked into a buzzsaw, as lots of people called them on it, and their sponsors started pulling their support. It's rather nice to see that kind of quick, public reaction. Cloudmine's blog post about it particularly impressed me. Squoot issued an apology fairly swiftly, which I quote below:
Sqoot is hosting an API Jam in Boston at the end of March. One of the perks we (not our sponsors) listed on the event page was:This didn't do much for a lot of people, but it got me thinking about apologies in tech in general, since they are actually crucial moments in the interaction between you and your customers/audience. When I worked at Lulu, Bob Young used to say that whenever you screw up, it's actually a tremendous opportunity to win a customer's loyalty by making it right. This applies both to small screwups (a customer's order never made it) and large ones (you did something that made lots of people mad). It strikes me that in this day and age, when the "non-apology" has become so frequent, people may actually not realize when it isn't appropriate to use conditional or evasive language in apologies. It's one thing if you're worried about being sued and can't admit culpability, or if you're someone like Rush Limbaugh, who's presumably concerned about appearing to back down in front of his audience. But if you're actually intent on repairing the damage done to your relationship with your customer or your audience, you need to be able to apologize properly.
“Women: Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you.”
While we thought this was a fun, harmless comment poking fun at the fact that hack-a-thons are typically male-dominated, others were offended. That was not our intention and thus we changed it.
We’re really sorry,
Avand & Mo
So what are the elements of a good apology?
- I hear you.
- I am truly sorry.
- (semi-optional, depending on what happened) This is what went wrong.
- I am doing x
to make sure this doesn't happen again and y to make it right with you.
- Thank you. I appreciate the feedback.
#1 is crucial. The person or group you're addressing has to know that you've heard their complaint and understand it. Apologies that lack this element sound cold and disconnected. And this is the main problem with Sqoot's "others were offended." They aren't speaking to the people they offended. This is just guaranteed to further piss people off.
#2 should be unconditional. Not "I'm sorry if you were offended." Indeed, if you find yourself pushing the focus onto the people whom you pissed off at all, you may be sliding into non-apology territory. This isn't about them—they're mad because you made them mad. Note that a good apology is not defensive, and does not attempt to shift the blame, even if that blame belongs to an employee whom you've just fired. If you did that, it's part of #4, the "how I'm fixing it" part, not the "I'm sorry" part. Don't try to save face in a genuine apology. Indicating that you meant no harm is fine, but if you're apologizing, it means you caused harm regardless of your intent.
#3 is a bit more tricky. People want to know how this could have happened, but it doesn't do to dwell on it too much, and this is another mistake Sqoot makes. They probably shouldn't quote the line that made everyone mad (it will make the readers mad all over again). It would have been enough to say they put something stupid and sexist into an event page which they now regret. On the other hand, you do have to acknowledge what happened and not look like you're trying to dodge it. So don't go into excruciating detail about what went wrong with a customer's order, for example. "I'm afraid you found a bug in our shopping cart" is probably enough detail. Sqoot's apology does this really badly: they explain exactly what they did, how it happened (we thought it was funny, because we're aware that these things are mostly male), and then contrast the "others" (who lack their sense of humor) who were offended. Explaining how you messed up does not mean defending yourself, and defending yourself in an apology must be handled delicately, or you look like an ass.
#4 Fix it, if you can. "We're refunding your order immediately and giving you a coupon", "I shall be entering rehab tomorrow morning", "We're donating $$ to x charity
#5 Reconnect. When you screw up, people are paying very close attention to you, and it's an opportunity to show that you're a stand-up company/organization/person. You stand to win greater loyalty and affection by handling the problem effectively. The people who are complaining (assuming they are correct, of course) are helping you by showing you where you're wrong, or at least showing you a different perspective. Squoot "signing" their apology is actually good, in this case, because it indicates the founders (I presume that's who they are) are taking responsibility. It's too bad they flubbed the middle bit.