Google did something very ordinary the other day. There was nothing special about the action it took or the way in which the action was executed. Thousands of other companies do virtually the same thing all the time. In fact, the action is now so routine, it’s expected by customers. They know it’s going to happen, but when it does, they aren’t reassured or even grateful. Instead, they discount the action’s value or question its motivation. So, what did Google do? It apologized for a mistake.
Google’s misstep upset a number of very important customers, including Marks and Spencer, Audi, RBS and L’Oreal. It had placed their ads next to extremist content on its YouTube site. As the companies saw it, that positioning had damaged their brands and maybe even worse, may have actually helped the videos’ posters earn some money. According to The Times, videos by rape apologists, anti-Semites and “hate preachers” earn the posters about £6 for every 1,000 clicks they generate.
What can job boards take away from this situation?
Companies are managed and operated by humans, so they make mistakes. Good companies will minimize those errors, but they can’t eliminate them. At least not until we’re all replaced by robots or software. So, when mistakes occur, there’s a simple but time-tested way to turn those lemons into the proverbial lemonade: acknowledge what’s been done, correct the situation, and then show a little genuine humility and apologize.
Sounds simple enough, right? And yet, making an apology can be a tricky business. According to Fortune, there are a number of reasons NOT to apologize:
• It risks exposing the organization to litigation;
• It can damage employee morale and performance; and
• Customers don’t always value an apology, even when it’s well intentioned.
It’s that last point that trips up a lot of job boards. You see, in reality, companies have an apology bank account with their customers. If they draw on that account too much, their apologies can be seen as gimmicky or worse, exploitive.
One apology expert explains it this way: he was once on a business trip and his flight was delayed due to bad weather. That’s obviously not something the airline could control, and yet, both the gate agent and the pilot apologized for the situation. He thought the apologies were a mistake. I think they were actually two mistakes:
• First, not a single passenger thought the airline was at fault for the delay, so the apologies felt as if the airline was trying to handle its customers. You know, keep the restive masses quiet by soothing them with kind words. Except the words rang hollow and no one really believed the airline actually felt sorry about the situation at all.
• Second and worse, the apologies drew on customers’ apology bank accounts with the airline, even though those apologies were never seen as credible. So, what happens? The next time customers fly on that airline and the airline is at fault for a problem – say there’s a late arriving crew or a mechanical issue – its apology will do little to sway the irritation of its customers.
So, here’s my suggestion on the business of apologies: Make apologies an integral part of the way you operate, BUT make sure:
• everyone understands that apologies are to be tendered only when the company is at fault
• those apologies must be:
o sincere, not perfunctory or a PR gimmick;
o timely not occur days or weeks after the fact; and
o self-initiated, not in response to getting caught or uncovered.
So, what about our friends at Google?
According to the story in The Times, Google only issued its apology after The Times pointed out the ads’ placement on YouTube. If that’s correct, Google’s apology probably had little or no impact on their customers’ view of Google – in fact, it may have actually damaged its credibility as a publisher – and worse, it drew heavily on customers’ apology bank account. The next time Google screws up – and it will no matter how talented its workforce – those customers are less likely to be in a forgiving frame of mind, and more willing to give Bing a shot at publishing their ads.
Food for thought,
The Job Board Journalist by Peter Weddle is brought to you by TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions.
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