The Art of Apology

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of failure. I reckon you should fail about 50% of your major goals and projects. It’s what I try to do. That mantra stops me beating myself up when I do fail (or at least I stop much sooner), and I’m much more willing to launch ambitious projects that stretch me knowing that I’m only meant to succeed with half of them.

Of course failing half the time can mean at times you let other people down. We all do it from time to time, and no doubt we experience it from different businesses more often than we’d like. And when it does happen, there is an opportunity to actually strengthen the relationship, and make it better than it was even before the stuff-up, if you handle it correctly.

I was trying to put some money into a rollover super fund a couple of weeks back. I’m setting up a self-managed super fund this month, but needed to deposit some cash into super in the last financial year, and then transfer the money into my new fund this financial year. So it was all a bit urgent.

I rang them to find out how I could deposit the money. The very helpful (and very wrong, as it turned out) woman told me to send a cheque with a note, and what to write on the note. When I rang the next week to confirm that it had all arrived the very helpful (and once again very wrong) young man told me that he was sorry, they actually couldn’t accept member contributions, and they had sent the cheque back. So I joined a different super fund, and wrote another cheque. But when I looked in my account a couple of days later they had banked the first cheque. I rang to be told words to the effect of “sorry, when we said we were sending your cheque back, we actually meant we had issued a cheque from us to you and were sending that.” Bugger. And then when that cheque hadn’t arrived a week later, and I rang back I was told, well, when we said we’d sent the cheque, we actually meant we’d put it into our system and some time when we got around to it, if we feel so inclined, then we’ll send a cheque (again I’m paraphrasing).

At this point I asked can I speak to your supervisor? I’m not a big fan of that line, but it was starting to get a bit ridiculous. And while there wasn’t much she could do, Isabelle, the supervisor, said “I’m sorry, I’m going to take responsibility for this matter. Here’s my direct number. If you ever need anything call me directly”. That was a pretty good apology, and I got off the phone feeling a bit better about the whole debacle.

But last week I got the best apology ever. The apology that prompted this blog. My good mate Jason Fox has been telling me for months how good life is in the world of Google. And he was generously helping me make the shift. But the whole thing was a comedy of errors. The upgrade page on Google was hanging, and their support phone number wasn’t working, and we were on hold for half an hour on the one that did work. And when we tried to have a go ourselves we ended up inadvertently deleting the email accounts from a couple of my team members. Cristina managed to get them restored in about five minutes after we realised what had happened, but they were down for a few hours first. So was no big deal, but wasn’t the start to the world of all things Google that we’d hoped for.

But that evening Jason sent me this apology:

He knows I’m into Japanese martial arts, so there is a bit of an in-joke with the Samurai / Ronin reference. As I said to him afterwards, that was the best apology ever. In fact the apology was so good, it was worth the stuff up just to get the apology (which is now on my wall).

Love to hear your thoughts and experiences – what’s the best apology you’ve ever received? Or given? You can leave your comments below.