The 6 As of the Uber Apology

As Uber turns the page with a new CEO — and with their high visibility and importance in the growing gig economy — I take a quick stab at an analysis of their recent apology regarding the denial of a transport license in London. I use an apology model I conceived a couple of years ago:

Acknowledging something has happened. “We’ve got things wrong” doesn’t tell us what. We need to know they know and understand. That said, it’s not always a good idea to highlight all the negatives. Score: 8.5/10

Authentic expression of regret. The language in the letter seems sincere and “We won’t be perfect” sounds like an honest admission. But it’s hard to know if Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is truly remorseful if we don’t understand the transgression(s). Plus, this is Uber’s first crack at diplomacy after a history of confrontation. They need more of track record to gain additional trust. Score: 8/10

Appropriate tone and language. I don’t think saying “We will appeal this [negative] decision” helps here — it muddies the message and pulls us back toward the more familiar, pugnacious Uber. The rest of the letter, though, speaks reasonably in plain words. Score: 7.5/10

Acceptable venue. An open letter in this situation is fine but should be backed up by personal, private outreach. Score: 9/10

Acting in the right timeframe. This is moderately quick — Transport for London refused to renew license on Friday, Sep. 22. Score: 9/10

Announcing next steps. “We will listen to you” and talk of writing the “next chapter” gives us little information. There are references to advances in wheelchair accessibility and clean air but saying “we will work with London to make things right” doesn’t tell us what or when other issues will be addressed. Score: 7.5/10

The 6 As rubric weights the elements differently. So, my overall score — and yours may certainly differ — works out to 82/100. Overall, not great but it seems that it was good enough for London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ask for the parties to come back to the table for new talks.

Or, was it pressure from Uber’s petition? The apology, after all, starts with the line: “We want to thank everyone who uses Uber for your support over the last few days.” The petition has over 790K signatories (aka potential voters), as of this writing. Their apparent two-pronged strategy reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s classic line: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”