Rogers crippled a huge chunk of Canada on Friday. How’s their apology?

Rogers Communications is the dominant internet provider in Toronto and the rest of Ontario. When it failed on Friday, it crashed a quarter of Canada’s internet connections, disrupting everything from mobile service to work-at-home to financial transactions and emergency 9-1-1 service for parts of three days.

Now that service appears to be back, Rogers has apologized. Given the magnitude of this disruption, how did they do on the apology?

Rating Rogers’ apology

Here’s an email one of my correspondents, a Rogers customer, received. The same apology is posted on the company’s website.

A Message from Rogers President and CEO

The message stumbles right out of the gate. The subject line and message heading, “A Message from Rogers President and CEO,” doesn’t tell the recipient what to expect. And there’s already a grammatical error: there should either be an apostrophe after “Rogers” or the name of the CEO at the end. A better subject line would be, “Here’s how the Rogers network failed on Friday, and how we are fixing it.”

Dear Valued Customer,

As you know, we experienced a network outage across both wireless and wireline service on Friday.

I am reaching out to share that our services have been restored, and our networks and systems are close to fully operational. Our technical teams are continuing to monitor for any remaining intermittent issues. I also want to outline an action plan we are putting in place to address what happened.

Despite the ill-chosen heading, this is an encouraging start. It describes the problem in the first sentence and then shares the most important information — that things are close to back to normal — right after that. Rogers also gets points for the timeliness of the message: it went out as soon as they restored service, on Saturday morning.

Take note also that the email is written in the first person. Rogers’ CEO speaks for himself as “I,” and for the company as “we.” The reader perceives this as a personal communication from the CEO, rather than an impersonal corporate blast. That choice may seem obvious, but so many apologies come off as either insensitive corporate boilerplate or soppy and insincere. Rogers gets this part right.

I want to share what we know about what happened on Friday. We now believe we’ve narrowed the cause to a network system failure following a maintenance update in our core network, which caused some of our routers to malfunction. We disconnected the specific equipment and redirected traffic, which allowed our network and services to come back online over time as we managed traffic volumes returning to normal levels.

For most readers, “a network system failure following a maintenance update in our core network, which caused some of our routers to malfunction” will be jargon-laden gibberish. (After all, what is the difference between a network failure and a network system failure? What is the difference between the network and the core network? Are we supposed to know what these terms mean?) Actual network experts won’t be able to make much of this either; it’s too vague for them. Call it a placeholder for “shit happened that borked our network.”

The sentence about what happened is shading into a passive construction — while it’s not grammatically passive, it hides who actually made the maintenance update. (The answer appears to be Ericsson, whose software runs on the routers.) Notice how the next sentence uses “we” to describe how Rogers fixed the problem. In other words, Rogers wants you to know it didn’t break things, but it did fix them.

We know how much you rely on our networks and I sincerely apologize. We’re particularly troubled that some customers could not reach emergency services and we are addressing the issue as an urgent priority.

We will proactively credit your account for Friday’s outage. This credit will be automatically applied and no action is required from you.

This is the actual apology. These apologies work best when they are clear, simple, written in the first person, take responsibility, accurately describe the harm, and offer compensation. Rogers got this part right — even if the final sentence is needlessly in passive voice.

My personal opinion is that the right compensation for an outage of this magnitude is a month’s service fees, because what you pay a company like Rogers for is dependable service all month, which they abjectly failed to deliver. But what they are likely to offer is credit for one day’s outage. Financially, Rogers could take the hit of 1/365 of annual revenues, but would suffer badly if it credited 1/12 of those revenues. But the apology is at least clear that the company will compensate customers without the customers needing to do anything.

As CEO, I take full responsibility for ensuring we at Rogers earn back your full trust, and am focused on the following action plan to further strengthen the resiliency of our network:

Fully restore all services: While this has been nearly done, we are continuing to monitor closely to ensure stability across our network as traffic returns to normal.

Complete root cause analysis and testing: Our leading technical experts and global vendors are continuing to dig deep into the root cause and identify potential steps to increase redundancy in our networks and systems.

Make any necessary changes: We will take every step necessary, and continue to make significant investments in our networks to strengthen our technology systems, increase network stability for our customers, and enhance our testing.

The final step in an apology is to state how the company will fix things in the future. And this part of the apology tries to do that. It’s nice that it’s structured in bullets to make it easy to read. But if you look closely, it’s meaningless.

Start with “This has nearly been done,” which is in passive voice for no reason.

Continue with meaningless weasel words: “closely,” “leading,” “dig deep,” and “significant” investments. Ask yourself, what’s the difference between monitoring and monitoring closely? How much is a “significant” investment? And how could you tell if an investigation was actually digging deeply, as opposed to just digging? (“Deep” and “deeply” are always weasel words.)

Finally, what does it mean to make “any necessary changes?” Obviously, Rogers will make changes that are necessary. And equally obviously, they will not make any changes that are not necessary. So the last bullet has no meaning whatsoever.

This action plan is vacuous. It’s filler. It’s equivalent to, “We don’t know what we will actually do yet, but we are going to look at what happened and do something.” But that wouldn’t sound very helpful.

We let you down on Friday. You have my personal commitment that we will do better.

Tony Staffieri
President and CEO, Rogers Communications

While “Tony,” seems a bit informal, this is a fine way to close.

This apology is meh

This apology is in the first person. It is sincere. It is brief. It describes the problem as well as the solution. And it offers financial compensation. Even though that’s the minimum any corporate apology should do, most such apologies fail on these measures.

Rogers loses points for its mushy and meaningless “action plan,” but they did try to indicate they’re going to make improvements. (Perhaps they’ll work a little harder since they’re in the midst of trying to get a big merger approved.)

I give Rogers a B+ for this apology. I guess I’m grading on a curve. My suggestions for the next time: have someone proofread and fix passive voice, and be more specific on what improvements you’ll make.

And to all my generous and friendly Canadian readers: let’s hope there’s no need for there to be a next time.

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  1. Good analysis, as usual, Josh.

    Phrases like I am reaching out to share and I want to share what we know seem to betray a lack of confidence, a tentativeness, on the part of the message sender. I hear him saying Don’t be mad, but…. In this case, it might be because he still doesn’t know precisely what happened or how he’s going to fix it.

  2. I
    Thanks Josh, I like that you recognize the impact that the Roger’s failure has had on their consumers and are quick to look for an apology that corresponds to the failure. However, my personal assessment is less generous. The subject line you propose would have been much more effective. Secondly, I find starting out with ‘Dear valued customer’, and ‘as you know’ , and then ‘I’m reaching out to share…’, irksome, lacking in crispness and somewhat patronizing. Did this crash remind Mr. Staffieri that his customers were valuable? Drop the ‘as you know’! instead of an assumption, start out with facts .. ‘Rogers experienced …..that affected many who depend on our services for their livelihoods and personal communication’. ‘I’m reaching out to share…’ is wordy, touchy feely and meh!
    Moving on, I would like to see Rogers take full responsibility and list the priorities as follows:
    • Fully restore all services, with urgency:
    • Complete root cause analysis and testing, and report to our customers to help them understand what happened.
    • Make all necessary changes, and report to you what we are doing to prevent a reoccurrence of last Friday’s system collapse and to reassure our customers..