The subscribers of The Hindu woke up to an apology note from the Editor yesterday. The note expressed regret in publishing a report which “failed to adhere to journalistic norms in both reporting and editorial supervision”. They also withdrew the story from all online platforms on The Hindu. Such a note is a rarity in current times not because journalists no longer make mistakes but because they do not have the mettle to own their mistakes. Yet, when I read the apology note from the Hindu, I was reminded of what Ken Poirot said – “By the time most people say ‘I’m sorry’, it is already too late”.
Few days ago, I returned exhausted from work and decided to order dinner through Zomato. I had placed the order at half past seven and was promised a delivery in forty five minutes. An hour went by without a sign of food. I called the Zomato customer support and they called the restaurant in turn to check the status. Thirty minutes later, a delivery agent was at my door and with the wrong order. I called Zomato again and they called the restaurant again. This time I was added to a conference call with Zomato and the restaurant. The restaurant apologized for the mistake and agreed to deliver the correct order in 15 minutes but the Zomato support agent intervened and said that they won’t be providing a delivery agent for this order since it was the restaurant’s fault. She asked the restaurant to use their own delivery options. The restaurant had collaborated with Zomato for delivery and did not have alternate options for delivering. I disconnected the call asking them to sort things among themselves and send me the dinner at the earliest. Ten minutes later, I receive a call from the Zomato staff stating that the order has been cancelled by the restaurant. She also mentioned that Zomato regrets the inconvenience caused to me and promised to reimburse the payment I had made in full. It would take 4 – 7 days for this money to be credited back to my bank account which she conveniently forgot to mention. She also suggested that I should make another order through Zomato. I looked at the time and it was already half past nine.
I asked her how long would it take for the next order to reach me. She said that would depend on the restaurant. What she meant was that it would take at least another forty five minutes. At this point, I asked for the manager. The manager came on the line after few minutes and repeated the same rehearsed apologies, except he tried to sound sincerer only to fail miserably at it. He also added that I should rate the restaurant poorly for their service. The mention of ‘poor service’ unleashed the rightful wrath that was simmering in me all this while. The restaurant would have delivered the order as promised in fifteen minutes had Zomato not refused to provide a delivery agent. It was indeed the restaurant who faltered with the order and I agree that they must bear the cost of the repeat delivery. However, in this case, I, the customer was penalized with hunger for having availed the services of Zomato and the restaurant.
What the Zomato staff did not understand was that I was availing the service of Zomato in the first place and not the restaurant’s. When they say they will reimburse the payment, they sound like they are doing me a favor by returning the money. After all, it was my money and they must refund it. I had only two questions to the Zomato manager.
- Can you arrange for my dinner to be delivered in the next 15 minutes?
- In scenarios like this, how do you compensate a customer for the inconvenience?
The answer to both the questions were “We are sorry, Ma’am”. I thanked them, disconnected the call, and went out to the food stall nearby my place to have my dinner.
Few months back, I along with a friend ordered a Kindle e-reader from Amazon as a gift for another friend. Two days after the gift was delivered, Amazon announced a sale and the e-reader got cheaper by ₹2000. My friend wrote an email to the Amazon Customer care team explaining how he had been a longtime customer of Amazon and how it feels to have paid ₹2000 more. Amazon was very well within their legal and moral rights to ignore such an email. Instead they chose to do something different. They went ahead and reimbursed ₹2000 rupees as Amazon credits as a ‘one-time’ goodwill gesture. How wonderful can that be!
These three cases are hardly comparable especially because the stakes involved are entirely different. The services that The Hindu or Zomato provide involve a lot more significant aspects of lives and they certainly cannot afford to make mistakes, but when they do, they need to have more than a mere apology. The same media which mercilessly rips apart wrongdoers should stick to the same standards if not better when it comes to their own misdeeds. Having personally been a victim of unethical journalism, I can only imagine the plight of the person who was wrongly accused and the emotional trauma that his entire family might have gone through. If an e-commerce service provider like Amazon who is not legally bound to address a certain grievance can walk the extra mile and do what they need not, only to keep a customer delighted, then the Hindu and Zomato must have a better way to address a grievance especially when they are legally, morally, and ethically bound.
Expressing regret is only the first step to an apology and not the end to it. An apology is complete only when you take responsibility for what happened and make amends. As Kevin Hancock says, “Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future”. While I have no high hopes for Zomato, I must laud the Hindu for their courage to step up and own their mistake. The Hindu withdrawing the story from online platforms is just like Zomato reimbursing the payment. I as a subscriber to the Hindu am interested to know how the Hindu is going to make amends for the future.