A Failed Apology

  • Due to a software bug, there was a three hour user outage in 2 central cities in Japan.

Engineers in Ottawa and Tel Aviv worked all night and day, for three days to get things right. Yet the situation was still not under control.

Japan Country Manager Hiroyasu Ito called the Head of R&D, James McDougal, and asked him to apologize to the customer. Ito sent a long email to James explaining how to apologize. James, ever the pragmatist, did not read the “wordy” email.

Ito called James after the apology and told him that the customer thinks that James is arrogant and that doing business with James’ company will be reconsidered.

James called in an OD consultant with global experience. He reviewed James apology which gave detail about what went wrong and the action which was be taken to rectify the problem, followed by a sincerely apology.

The consultant told James that there is no show of remorse, no humility, no humbleness. Just explanations and “I’m sorry”. This is seen as very arrogant and the way you apologize shows why your product is so shabby, in the eyes of the Japanese. The customer wants to be sure that you are awed by the failure, that you feel deep shame, and that you are committed.

“What the hell do you mean?”, asked James. “I worked with my communication coach for an hour on this apology”.

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