Sonotsorry

Melbourne public transport is notorious for unexpectedly running behind schedule and experiencing delays. I know many people who leave the house well before their tram, train or bus comes just in case it’s early, or late and they need to turn to plan B.

While it’s understandable that accidents happen on the roads, faults happen on train tracks, and bad weather can cause unexpected demand on trams and push them behind, what is no longer acceptable is any lack of communication with commuters.

This morning as I sat on a slow moving tram painfully crawling into town, I was greeted by a pre-recorded announcement by Yarra Trams saying, “Due to increased passenger demand, there are delays on route 86.”

I don’t know whether it was the inflection used at the end of the sentence, or the lack of depth in the message, but the sentence didn’t seem complete. It really drew attention to the conspicuous absence of a particular word. “Sorry”.

It’s a polarising word in my opinion. It can either carry extreme weight when delivered with genuine regret, and used sparingly, or, it can come across as disingenuous if used too flippantly or too often.

In 2012, Apple delivered a genuine “Sorry” to great effect after the widely panned release of its Maps software.

In a letter from its CEO, Tim Cook said, “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

Cook’s open letter, posted on Apple’s website is concise, honest and rightly or wrongly promotes the vision he had for Maps, and the commitment the company has to improving the product.

His letter breaks the company’s iconic culture of secrecy, instead showing humility, and using the phrase “extremely sorry”.

Alongside this great example, however, Apple’s mates U2 were less successful with their reluctant apology last month to iTunes users, after they released a complimentary/obligatory new album for free with iOS 8.

Following an incredible backlash from users complaining they didn’t know the band, didn’t like the music, or that (with their automatic downloads turned on), the download of the album put them over their data limit, U2 responded, and quite begrudgingly so…

“Oops, I’m sorry about that.”, said lead singer Bono at the beginning of a video the band posted on Facebook. “I had this beautiful idea and we kind of got carried away with ourselves,”.

While in the minds of Apple and U2, this free album was a gift to the world that had gone unappreciated, in the minds of many consumers, it was a reflection on how out of touch both brands are with how people find and consume music, not to mention people’s tastes (U2 is so 2003).

“Sorry” is a sticky word that can get you out of a pickle, but can also get you into one.

Maybe today Yarra Trams and Metro decided to stay away from the scrutiny that the word brings.

But for whatever reason the lack of an announcement on Metro’s trains, and today’s Yarra Trams announcement, spoken by a human voice, broadcast to hundreds of other humans across Melbourne, completely lacked any humility, any assumption of responsibility, and any sense of genuine concern. That, in my opinion, falls short of a company’s responsibility.

Looking around the tram I saw a girl preparing for a piano exam that she may have missed, standing side by side with people like me who were simply late for work, and it made me think. It’s those people that are owed an apology. A human voice apologise admitting fault, and saying that one word, “Sorry”.