Woodward and Bernstein and their series on Watergate set the modern lexicon of scandal and how people deal with them. Here is the formula:
- A problem or suspicious of a problem arises.
- People look to the source and say, “What is going on?”
- If the source says, “Nothing, nope, no problem here. Everything is great.” (Denial) then people will relentlessly pursue the problem until they uncover the truth.
- If the source says, “Yes, there is a problem. Here are all the details we know.” (Transparency and full disclosure) then people will calm down, lose interest and do something else.
- When finally the “truth” is discovered, if the source continues to cover-up or deny, then people will hammer the point and look for other inconsistencies. They will destroy you.
- On the other hand, at the moment of truth, the source sincerely apologizes (without crying), then people will calm down and move on to another issue. (Self-deprecating humor always works)
A scandal or cover-up or unapologetic source is like a vacuum and as we know, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
So Tiger Woods and David Letterman both had affairs. Tiger went silent. Letterman went public with full disclosure and humor. Letterman was forgiven and Woods is thought of as suspect and untrustworthy.
Toyota has issues with their cars from obvious quality assurance problems that have been systemic for years. How have they handled it? Denial. Of course, the public is going to hammer away until they stop acting like that. Toyota’s handling of the problem is costing them billions of dollars. They don’t see the obvious strategy. Open the flood gates of information and be as public as possible. Invite reporters to ride shotgun with the inspectors.
What is the lesson for a software product?
Software products (all of them) have bugs and problems. When they arise, you just have to be up front, honest, transparent and try and fix the problem. If you deny or ignore, people will smell blood in the water and attack. Great UX requires a trust relationship. You don’t get that at arms length. You have to dirty dance with your customers. They have to know what you are packing under that kimono. Otherwise, they are not going to trust you and you will always struggle with user experience.