Within minutes of its release as part of an operating system upgrade on Apple mobile devices, the Apple Maps feature began to generate howls of protest. Compared to the Google mapping feature it replaced, Apple Maps had numerous problems, from egregious errors to missing functionality.
Users accustomed to finding just about anything through the Google app flooded the Internet with examples of mapping blunders. A railway station in Helsinki showed up as a park in Apple Maps. A farm in Ireland appeared as an airport. The Washington Monument was misplaced by several hundred yards. Driving directions steered one user down a railroad track. A search for the huge John Lewis department store in central London yielded nothing, even when the user was standing on the sidewalk outside the store. (This Tumblr blog offers dozens of examples—some amusing, some frightening.)
Beyond the errors and omissions, the removal of real-time mass transit schedules upset people who had been relying on this feature to plan journeys.
Two responses from Apple caught our eye during the aftermath. The first merits our Hall of Shame award, but the second gets into the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Shame Example
An article on CNN.com highlighted the many problems Apple Maps was displaying soon after launch and quoted this response from Apple’s Trudy Muller:
Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover and Siri integration, and free turn by turn navigation. We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.
There are five major problems with this response:
First, there is no acknowledgment of any problems, even though people all over the world were having problems and sharing them all over the Internet.
Second, there is no element of apology. Many users were furious, particularly given that they had no choice in the switch from Google to Apple Maps. (Of course, you can’t apologize if you don’t admit you even have a problem.)
Third, the upbeat tone adds insult to injury. Yes, companies need to put a positive spin on things whenever they can, but when customers are angry, they really don’t want to hear that you’re “excited to offer” the very service that is driving them nuts. Yes, Flyover and Siri are cool features to add to mapping, but if the map sends you astray, they aren’t all that helpful. And promising to make customer experience “even better” is tone deaf in this context. Something has to be perceived as “good” before it can get “better.”
Fourth, angry customers also don’t care that it’s a “major initiative” or that you’re “just getting started with it.” They care that a major feature on their expensive phones was suddenly replaced with one that was unreliable and in many instances simply unusable. Plus, this aspect of the message risks coming across as “give us a break; this is really hard and we aren’t finished yet.”
Fifth, with “the more people use it, the better it will get,” the message comes close to blaming users, or at least suggesting that they share the responsibility for fixing the problems. And what are people supposed to do the meantime, keep driving down railroad tracks or walking across lakes?
All in all, it’s a classic. But not the kind of classic any company wants to be known for.
The Hall of Fame Example
About a week later, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with an open letter to Apple customers that acknowledged the extent of the problem, apologized for the frustration Apple created, and, most impressively, explained how to put alternative mapping capabilities—including Google—on affected Apple products. (Click here for an annotated slide.)
Cook’s letter does repeat the “the more people use it, the better it will get,” which we believe is an ill-advised message point. Mapping is an important feature on an expensive product, and it is Apple’s responsibility to fix the problem, not customers’, even if customer input can help. However, the letter has enough other helpful information conveyed in a respectful way that we still think it offers a worthy example.