A Tale of Two Apology Notes

by Krishna on January 17, 2009


Jason Kilar, CEO of the commercial-video-streaming site Hulu, makes a great apology to users [Hat tip to Matt at 37 Signals]

Customer trust is hard won, easily lost.


This note, however, is not about the fact that episodes of ”It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” were taken down. Rather, this note is to communicate to our users that we screwed up royally with regards to _how_ we handled this specific content removal and to apologize for our lack of strong execution. We gave effectively no notice to our users that these ”Sunny” episodes would be coming off the service. We handled this in precisely the opposite way that we should have. We believe that our users deserve the decency of a reasonable warning before content is taken down from the Hulu service. Please accept our apologies.

Given the very reasonable user feedback that we have received on this topic (we read every twitter, email and post), we have just re-posted all of the episodes that we had previously removed. I’d like to point out to our users that the content owner in this case — FX Networks — was very quick to say yes to our request to give users reasonable advance notice here, despite the fact that it was the Hulu team that dropped the ball. […] Unfortunately we do not have the permission to keep the specific episodes up on Hulu beyond that [January 25, 2009]. We hope that the additional two weeks of availability will help to address some of the frustration that was felt over the past few days.

The team at Hulu is doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons on this one, but it’s not easy given how poorly we executed here. Please know that we will do our best to learn from this mistake such that the Hulu user experience benefits in other ways down the road.

Compare that with another apology note below. This comes from the customer support of another site (which I will not mention) which decided to take down several of their products from the shopping carts of users without any notice. I decided to quit the site and sent them a note. Here is their reply:

I completely understand what you mean. However, we’re a small-but-growing company and there’s a bit of a learning curve to everything. When we first started, we thought we could be everything to everyone, but in time, realized that wasn’t practical. Rest assured; no change like this gets made lightly around here. Our projections showed that, if we didn’t make this necessary alteration, we would shortly go out of business. That wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest — not ours, of course, but certainly not our many thousands [users] either– and so we made changes that affected a maximum of about 3% of our user base.

So now, instead of being a ridiculously cumbersome Swiss Army knife, we’re more refined and realistic — still highly functional and full of great things. Likewise, we’re positive there are many [products our company] offers that appeal to you, even though we may not be able to affordably deliver the world. Heck, that big knife costs $1400.

I am sorry, but you don’t understand at all. The point is that the 3% of users who are affected are the ones who spent time and effort on your site, which they will never get back. Upsetting the 3% of your customers who bothered to use your features without giving them any notice does not make any business sense. And telling them of your troubles and your business strategy does nothing to endear you to them.

We are all human and make mistakes. But to tell users, “We wasted your time, but don’t worry about it. It is for your own good and part of our brilliant business scheme,” is exceedingly condescending. Why even bother sending such a reply?

[Image licensed under Creative Commons from spudmurphy]

{ 1 comment }

Anonymous January 17, 2009 at 11:43 am

Well the episodes are back up. ffiw.

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