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All Apologies: Netflix Vs. RIM In A Mea Culpa Matchup

netflix word cloud

Not long ago Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had to apologize for something unusual and unpleasant; he dropped the ball in terms of matching the needs and desires of a huge number of his company's customers. In case you've been living under a mountain of DVDs and missed the rumpus, it all started with the odd decision to separate the firm's DVD-rental and streaming content businesses, and the oddball choice of the new businesses' name, Qwikster.

In his blog post offering a personal apology, Hastings set straight to work to explain why the "DVD" (the word was used 22 times) are important to both the future of Netflix (11 uses) and its "members" (8 uses). "Streaming" (13 uses) is equally so, he claimed. The decisions were made about "our" (18 uses) service (15 uses) and systems though, Hastings accented, not for the convenience of "you" (7 uses) and "yours" (1 use). 

Qwikster (10 uses) and Qwikster.com (2 uses)—a name already well-occupied by a frequent Twitterer not affiliated with Netflix—was an interesting choice. And while it's usually good that a company "changes" (3 uses), the decision may have been an "error" (1 use).

Notable in its absence among Hasting's words is "sorry," however, and during this "apology" (1 use) Hastings only said "apologize" once. Instead he framed this as a case wherein he "messed up" and needed to give an "explanation." If you were cynical you'd think that perhaps this was no real apology at all, merely a slippery statement of Hastings' opinion. 

Today, meanwhile, RIM's Mike Lazaridis, had to apologize for a three-day outage across significant parts of the world (mainly Europe, the Middle East and Africa) of his company's main mobile data and email service to its core customers. RIM's network collapsed due to a data switching failure that had a cascade effect on its trans-global system—highly touted as being both more secure and reliable than regular Net traffic channels.

For Lazaridis, this was an opportunity to "assure" (1 use) users that RIM was "working" (4 uses) to "restore" (2 uses) his firm's BlackBerry (2 uses) "service" (4 uses), and also to say his workers were travailing "tirelessly" (1 use) to win back user "trust" (1 use). Mike felt the need to "apologize" just once, preferring to emphasise the effort his team was going through to "stabilize" its system (3 uses). 

Lazaridis did say RIM had "let many of you down", though. And he personalized his presentation deeply—using "I" four times. Although he didn't actually say "sorry."

Would you say that both men's effort at placating an angry and bemused public fell short of the mark?

The social nicety of actually saying "sorry," after all, is something every parent tries to instill in their children as a way of expressing genuine regret at an error that's been committed. The slip-ups were committed at a time when both firms' future is in sharp focus and possible decline. Netflix's future is challenged as the world turns more and more to streaming movies, and new competition enters the field from Amazon Prime to Apple TV. RIM's future is in question because Apple is busy eating the company's main breakfast, lunch, and dinner by stealing customers away to iOS alternatives to the BlackBerry.

It's hard not to wonder what each leader's apology to its management team looked like.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.