On Monday, Apple announced the firing Senior VP of iOS Software, Scott Forstall, for refusing to sign a public letter apologizing for Apple’s faulty Mobile Maps. Forstall’s team was responsible for the app, which replaced Google Maps on the iPhone 5. It drew a storm of criticism as soon as it launched; it was so bad many even claimed it posed a danger to drivers using it. Just a week later, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, suggesting that customers try out competitors’ map apps for the time being. The Maps fiasco was just the latest in a string of Apple failures since Steve Jobs’ death last fall, causing many to question the future of the most valuable company of all time. Just days after Jobs’ death, Apple launched the iPhone 4S with Siri, a new personal assistant app with voice recognition. Siri has not lived up to its hype.
With Mobile Maps, Apple clearly made a mistake launching a faulty product. Still, what was even more abhorrent was Forstall’s refusal to apologize for it. A basic rule in handling a crisis is that when a company (or individual) makes a mistake, they need to apologize, fast. During college, when I was a server at a chain restaurant, an acronym our management gave us for handling any and all guest complaints was L.A.S.T: Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank. We smoothed over the vast majority of problems by simply listening to the complaint, offering a sincere apology, rectifying the situation and thanking the customer for continued patronage. This applies to more than just customer service, it makes the difference between good PR and bad PR.
In contrast, Amazon stands as a shining example of how great PR can allow a company to launch even a faulty product successfully. When Amazon debuted the latest Kindle reader, Paperwhite, the company put a clear disclaimer on the Amazon homepage explaining various shortcomings of the product compared to previous models. This undoubtedly avoided a lot of negative backlash.
An air of secrecy has long been a defining part of Apple’s brand. Under Steve Jobs, secrecy added to the brand’s exclusive allure. However, Apple won’t be able to continue releasing inferior products at luxury prices, only to offer half-hearted apologies later on. A recent study found that for the first time ever, the percentage of iPhone owners who plan on buying another Apple phone has declined. In our ever-evolving media landscape, transparency is more important than ever. Hopefully, Cook’s new executive management team will learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.