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Leadership: Steve Jobs’s Non-Apology

In the wake of the unprecedented response to last week’s post about Michael Vick’s apology, I thought I’d continue that line of thought with a look at another recent apology by someone on a bit of a different plane – Steve Jobs.

In the wake of the unprecedented response to last week’s post about Michael Vick’s apology, I thought I’d continue that line of thought with a look at another recent apology by someone on a bit of a different plane – Steve Jobs.

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As most readers no doubt know by now, Apple reduced the price of its highly touted, long-awaited iPhone by a third. And they did it only a little over 2 months after the phone first came to market. This is the phone the company spent a year doing an excellent job hyping; so successfully, in fact, that people camped out overnight and waited in lines wrapped around the block for a chance to be one of the first to own one.

Furthermore, this is the company that never discounts its products (they cost the same at the Apple Store as they do online – ok, maybe they’re $2 cheaper online). So customers who had purchased the iPhone for a hefty $599 were correct to feel a sense of betrayal when Apple announced unexpectedly that, effective immediately, the phone would cost $399.

Of course, people like me, a forever Apple user, who did not buy the phone smugly breathed a sigh of relief and patted ourselves on the back for not being taken in by all the hype in the first place. Longtime fans know never to buy the 1st generation of anything Apple puts out and sometimes, not even the second. And in my case, although I longed for an iPhone (and sort of still do), my decision was made much easier by the inclusion of AT&T as the sole carrier, a company that I vowed years ago never to do business with again if I could help it.

Even so, as a member of the Apple family, I shook my head and felt that same sense of outrage when I heard the news. Apparently, the emails poured in and Steve Jobs and his marketing team knew they had a problem. So they sprang into action and posted a letter to the Apple website. After several paragraphs making the business case for the price cut, the one line that has any meaning appears: “Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.” It’s the only line with any heart.

But if actions speak louder than words, then Apple’s attempt at mollifying irate iPhone owners was a dandy. Apparently “living up to that trust” means a $100 store credit. Some people were placated, but others felt used and let their feelings be known. As one irate customer put it, “I was a $200 iPhone beta tester for Apple.” This could have something to do with another line in the letter that really gets to the crux of things: “This is life in the technology lane.” BAM! Any hope an early iPhone customer might have had that Steve Jobs felt their pain was wiped out. He might as well have yelled, “Suckers!”

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This is known as the “Sorry, but” form of apology. “Yes, we admit it, and we’re sorry, but you were stupid to think we wouldn’t” or some other form of blame-the-victim. According to the “rules” for apology I laid out last week, Apple and Jobs failed at every, single one:

1.Accept total responsibility. Nope. Blaming the customer for not being up on the latest tech pricing schemes is more Jobs’s style.

2.Apologize. Jobs actually does use the words “We apologize.” In this case, it’s just words.

3.Accept your fate. No punishment here. The store credit is nice, but it would have been better and seemed more sincere if a rebate check was sent because, let’s face it, a $100 store credit means it only costs Apple about $50, maybe less. So that’s a smoke screen. It’s like “re-gifting.” (This one really sticks in my craw.)

4.Deliver the apology believably. Nope, failed this one, too. We get the feeling that Jobs and friends didn’t lose a moment’s sleep over this.

Bottom line, Apple screwed its customers that it professes to value so highly. And its efforts to make amends are half-baked, at best. This is not leadership in my book and it certainly doesn’t pass for an apology. “Sorry, but” from Jobs and Apple? More like sorry butts.

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Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • www.ruthsherman.com

About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World.

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