Uber isn't known for its PR success. Plagued by a series of near-endless communication disasters since its inception in 2009, in September the ridesharing app looked like it was about to face its worst crisis yet. Citing a number of safety concerns surrounding background checks and the reporting of criminal offences, Transport for London (TfL) decided it wouldn't be renewing Uber's operating licence. With 3.5 million regular users of the app in London, this is not a market Uber wants to lose.
The company's CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is fully aware of this. That's why he released an apology letter following TfL's announcement – an apology letter that has perhaps for the first time put Uber on the front foot in a communication disaster.
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) September 25, 2017
Admit your mistakes but also show your triumphs
Khosrowshahi's admission that "we've got things wrong along the way" and his sincere, heartfelt apology for these mistakes is central to the letter's success. This isn't a heap of corporate speak and not-quite sorrys – this is a genuine apology for the (numerous) catastrophes Uber has faced (and caused).
Yet, at the same time as admitting these mistakes, Khosrowshahi also reminded everyone of Uber's triumphs. He wrote of the employment opportunities and the safe passage home for millions of Londoners the service has provided. He also detailed how Uber is specifically helping the city of London, through its wheelchair accessible vehicles and introduction of a Clean Air Plan.
This reminds readers Uber does, in fact, do a lot of good in the cities in which it operates.
Humility and humanity
As we've said many times before, humanity is the key to any successful communication strategy. And Khosrowshahi showed it in huge amounts. He displayed a strong commitment to change, while at the same time admitting that "we won't be perfect, but we will listen to you; we will look to be long-term partners with the cities we serve; and we will run our business with humility, integrity and passion." He went on to say "we will work with London to make things right."
People understand that businesses can't be perfect, and it takes a true PR expert to admit this and use it to his or her advantage. This is what Khosrowshahi has done, and it's worked. The petition to save Uber's operating licence has gathered nearly 750,000 signatures and is testament to the power of an apology.
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