Did Apple CEO Tim Cook make the right PR move by apologizing for the iPhone-maker's apparent arrogance toward its customers in China? Or did the company cave to China's state-run media? Or was it simply a smart business decision?
Does Apple’s apology create a dangerous precedent for American companies looking to make inroads in foreign markets?
From a strictly crisis response perspective, Cook's apology covered
all the bases of a corporate mea culpa
: It was direct, honest, and apologetic and outlined steps to fix the problems associated with its repair policies, warranty information, training of its service providers and overall customer service.
“…We still have a lot to learn on operating and communicating in China. We hereby assure you that the commitment and enthusiasm for China from Apple is not different than any other country. Our ideal is to give the best user experience and customer satisfaction, even more it is our promise. This has been deeply rooted in Apple’s company culture. We will make unremitting efforts to achieve this goal.”
In terms of communicating with a foreign audience, Apple avoided most of the obvious pitfalls. The apology was issued in Chinese, avoiding any awkward language issues. It avoided generalities that seem to only work with American audiences and it acknowledged the issue up front.
At the end of February, Amazon failed in its apology to German audiences when news reports
came out that Amazon was accused of treating temporary workers inadequately. They were assailed for not factually addressing the issue and not having any compassion in its apology.
For Apple, it’s abundantly clear their apology probably had more to do with business in the Asian market than reputation management. TechCrunch reports
that Greater China accounted for 13 percent of Apple’s sales last year, and it’s a growing market. That’s huge for a company whose stock has sat idle as its competitors have seen large gains of late.
Analysts and insiders say the apology by the Cupertino company is a sign that it’s worried about its grip on the Chinese marketplace.
While the initial response to the apology was critical by media outlets, claiming that the company was cow-towing to China’s state-run media, the tide has seemingly turned in Apple’s favor—at least by Chinese media.
The Global Times
, published by the China’s People’s Daily
, “The company’s apology letter has eased the situation, softening the tense relationship between Apple and the Chinese market.”
As far as setting a precedent for corporations apologizing to foreign customers, Apple may have inadvertently opened a door better left shut. The People’s Daily
sent a shot across the bow to other companies in its response to Apple’s apology, saying: “Its reaction is worth respect compared with other American companies."
Already, there are reports
Chinese state media is targeting Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, running a similar investigation into their consumer care practices on state-run television.
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.