Anatomy of an Apology


netflix apologyYou may have heard or read about it, or if you are a Netflix customer, you may have received it in email.

If you didn’t, Reed Hastings, Co-founder and CEO of Netflix wrote an apology and explanation for a significant pricing change that took place in late July.

If you haven’t seen it, reading it now, will make this piece more useful (and interesting).  After I read it, I had three observations about apologies, that I will share now.

The Opening

The piece opens with:

 I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.

This is a great example of an apology, because it is direct, clear and brief.  There is no way to misunderstand or sugarcoat it.  Mr. Hastings is apologizing, and taking responsibility for his decisions/actions.  This is a powerful example of an apology, especially in a public forum.  Far too often people in public don’t apologize anywhere nearly this effectively.

Do you apologize in a clear and direct way?

Do you truly take responsibility when you apologize?

The Timing

The piece continues with:

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I’ll try to explain how this happened.

I think everyone will agree that an apology shared sooner is more effective.  I wish Mr. Hastings has shared his apology sooner.

How soon do you apologize?

The Rest

After the opening two paragraphs the piece extends for a long time.  And, as promised, Mr. Hastings does offer an explanation.  Unfortunately he doesn’t stop there.  After the explanation, the largest part of the piece talks about an announcement of a change in Netflix’s business operations and organization.

Is this announcement important?  Of course.  While I have nothing against the announcement, nor the way it is written, the fact that it is attached to an apology, tends reduce the value of the apology.  I brings into question the intention of the apology, which I just praised!  Is it possible readers will wonder what crossed my mind?  Is this apology diminished when it prefaces another agenda?

I do not know what the intention was, and I do know is that the apology would have been more effective if it had been pulled apart from the new announcement.

Do you keep your apologies separate from other messages?

I hope these thoughts help you think about how you can deliver a more effective apology, the next time you must.

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  1. says

    Thanks for your note Kevin. I agree with you. He started off fine “I messed up.” I don’t think he is sincere though. I think the real reason was to announce a new service and not apoligize for raising some of his best customer’s rates 60% to continue to buy a service they were currently getting.

    I am a Netflix customer. After I read his “apology” I still had a bad taste in my mouth. They need to do more to make this customer happy.

    Roland Bydlon

  2. says

    I think there are two parts to an apology: repentance and restitution.

    Mr. Hastings came out and initially appeared…repentant. I am glad to know that he’s listening (of course, the noise on Twitter after the announcement of a 60% price hike would be hard to miss).

    What I think leaves his apology lacking is there is no sense of restitution. I think (because this is the way I feel) that even though there is an apology, there isn’t a sense of making it right with those who were blindsided by this sudden (by all appearances) change.

    If he apologized and then said, “So here’s what we’re going to do…” – and then offered something to make the customer feel they were getting the additional value they were now having to pay for…it would have made the apology that much more meaningful.

    Also, my understanding of the word “repentance” is that it’s actually a turning from one’s present course in a new direction. I didn’t sense, from the apology, that Netflix was going to make any changes that showed they were going to be more mindful of the customer in the future. Now that I think about it, perhaps Mr. Hastings is simply being apologetic, but not repentant.

  3. says

    I felt the apology missed the mark. While I agree his direct style was good, the message was way off. He was apologizing for not communicating the message himself. That’s not why people are upset. He spoke about the company and himself rather than the needs/issues/concerns of his subscribers. As I paraphrased in my post yesterday, “It’s the subscriber, stupid”. The reaction after the apology suggests subscribers found the apology unsatisfying. If you’re interested in reading my full remarks and to read my suggestions for avoiding Reed Hastings’ mistakes, you can find the post at: Lost Opportunity: Netflix’s Reed Hastings blows the apology

  4. says

    You are right on the money about attaching the business announcements to the apology reducing the value of the apology. Right there, I turned him off and lost the positive feelings the apology generated.

    If he had just left it to the apology alone, it would’ve been effective for most customers. Instead, they continued their downward spiral of frustrating customers and not making us feel appreciated or a focus. The additional information made me feel the company and making money is more important than the customers. And that can never be the case if a company wants to succeed.

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