Uber has transformed the way we travel, and now they are changing the way we apologize. John List, the lead economist for Uber and professor at the University of Chicago had a bad Uber experience. He requested a ride predicting that he would arrive in 20 mins. Half an hour into the ride, he looked up and noticed that he was back at his house where he started, as there was a glitch in the Uber GPS system. This error made him late for an event, and he was shocked that he didn’t receive an apology from Uber. This experience inspired him to come up with the research idea — in the realm of business, how does apologizing influence forgiveness?
The Uber team came up with eight different scenarios, and tested it out on 1.6 million people who had bad Uber experiences. After taking a bad ride, these passengers received a message within one hour. Each passenger was put into one of eight groups, each group containing over 200,000 people. The messages include one of the following scenarios.
- Uber did nothing — no apology for the bad ride (control group)
- Basic apology — “Oh no! Your trip took longer than we estimated”
- Status apology (an apology to re-build and re-claim one’s reputation) — “We know that our estimate was off”
- Commitment apology (apologizing to ensure a brighter future)— “We are working hard to give you arrival times that you can count on”
The other four groups were identical, but offered a $5 Uber voucher for a future ride (the control group was just offered $5 but no reason was indicated).
Over 4 months, the Uber team tracked the apologies sent and customer’s reaction (if they were willing to forgive Uber and take another ride again over 84 days) was tracked. They found that customers didn’t necessarily forgive the company on the type of specific apology, but rather cared more about the $5 coupon. Although, if Uber had more than one bad ride and a customer received more than one apology e-mail, the apology back-fired. How can we apply this to our lives, without giving $5 cash to everyone we slightly offend?
- The $5 can be translated into pursuing an action which moves the relationship forward in the right direction. This could mean giving your friend a gift, or showing your vulnerabilities. Giving something — whether it’s yourself or an item helps people look to the future.
- We should never apologize when we don’t mean it, as the more we apologize the less the apology is taken seriously.
- An apology needs to be genuine, and the person receiving the apology needs to feel that it is genuine.
- Accept that as a person apologizing and admitting to a mistake, you will be held to a higher standard to regain trust.
We have all messed up at one point in our lives, but often our future relationships are not dependant on our past, but the choices we chose to make for the future. If Uber can do it — so can we.
Dubner, S. & Rosalsky, G. (Producer). (2018). How to Optimize Your Apology. Freakonomics, Chicago, IL.