#ApologyWatch: Measuring the Health of Fitbit’s Apology

Some users of Fitbit’s Force activity-tracker have been reporting severe skin-irritations from the company’s device since late last year.  Fitbit CEO James Park released an apology recently to users of their product, but the company’s efforts to make amends did not begin with Park’s recent letter.  The company first responded publicly to the complaints in mid-January, and looking at Fitbit’s efforts and statements since then help show why their apology is an authentic one.

According to early coverage of the issue, users of the Force began voicing complaints that the wrist-worn device was causing “red, itchy skin to painful blisters that would ooze or bleed” near the end of 2013.  Fitbit responded with a statement in January 2014 saying, “We are sorry that even a few consumers have experienced these problems and assure you that we are looking at ways to modify the product so that anyone can wear the Fitbit Force comfortably.”

The company’s apology quickly gained credibility, though, because it backed its words with immediate action.  The company announced that affected “customers may also contact Fitbit for an immediate refund or replacement with a different Fitbit product.”

Twitter user Andrew Evershed took Fitbit up on its offer.  After contacting the company to return the Force device, he received more than instructions and packaging to return his device, he also received a letter signed by James Park.

In the letter, Park reassures that the company’s promise to refund the cost of the device will be honored, and then apologized “on behalf of the entire company.”  But more than this, he shows empathy toward the user’s frustrations and dissatisfaction, saying, “While this issue seems to be impacting a very limited number of our users, I know that’s little comfort when you’re one of them.”  Park also demonstrates an appreciation for how trust is integral to Fitbit’s relationship with their consumers, humbly expressing his hope that “we’ll have an opportunity to regain your trust again soon.”

Most recently in a new apology posted on Fitbit’s website, Park continues to back his apologetic words with meaningful action.  He tells of how the company hired “independent labs and medical experts” to investigate why the device may have caused some users severe skin-irritation.  Park explains that affected users were likely experiencing “allergic contact dermatitis” that resulted from skin contact with certain materials used to manufacture the device.  After explaining the investigation, Park announces that they will stop selling the product and “have decided to conduct a voluntary recall,” since “we have now learned enough to take further action.”  Moreover, he reiterates that “we are offering a refund directly to consumers for full retail price.”

Dov Seidman’s recent article on apologies lays out five conditions for an authentic apology:

  • They must be painful. If an apology doesn’t create vulnerability and isn’t therapeutically painful, it’s not an apology at all.
  • They must be authentic and not an excuse. An apology can’t have ulterior motives or be a means to an end.
  • They must probe deep into the personal or organizational values that permitted the offense. Apologizers need to conduct a “moral audit” by looking themselves in the mirror and asking, “How did I get here and how did I drift from the person I aspire to be?”
  • They must encourage feedback from the aggrieved. This includes truly opening up to input and two-way conversation during and after an apology, and embracing ideas as to how to improve.
  • They must turn regret into a real change in behavior. The new behaviors they elicit must be continuing, reinforced by a sustained investment in avoiding the same mistakes in the future.

Do you think James Park’s apologetic statements and efforts meet these criteria?  Did Fitbit do enough to make amends?  If so, what stood out to you about their apology, and if not, what more should Fitbit do?

It’s also worth noting that Fitbit isn’t the first company that makes activity-trackers to have apologized.  In 2011, Jawbone offered full refunds – through their “No Questions Asked Guarantee” – to users of their Up wristband for hardware failures that permanently disabled their devices.  CEO Hosain Rahman issued a public statement that included an apology, saying, “We regret any disappointment we’ve created for our community of users and appreciate the trust you’ve put in us.”

Categories: The Apology Project

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