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What's behind Apple's mea culpa in China?

Tom Kaneshige | April 4, 2013
Apple CEO Tim Cook's overboard apology to China about the company's alleged disregard of customer service highlights an East-West cultural clash about how to do business.

"From my experience, there's a lot of pushback on foreign product," Li says. "My speculation is that the Chinese government is trying to grow the domestic market-that is, localized products and services."

The criticism worked, and Apple CEO Tim Cook quickly issued an apology: "We realize that a lack of communication in this process has led the outside to believe that Apple is arrogant and doesn't care or value consumers' feedback. We sincerely apologize for any concern or misunderstanding this has brought to the customers."

It's hard to imagine Cook's predecessor, the fiery Steve Jobs, apologizing for anything (although he did give a half-hearted mea culpa for the iPhone 4's antenna problem). Cook's apology, says Li, was too quick and makes Apple look weak in the eyes of many Chinese.

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China's Foreign Ministry jumped on Cook's apology, calling it a "conscientious response." The country's official mouthpiece, The People's Daily, wrote: "The company apology letter has eased the situation, softening the tense relationship between Apple and the Chinese market. Its reaction is worth respect compared with other American companies."

While the drama continues to unfold-Cook plans to improve customer service in China, but we don't know how-the heart of the matter lies in the very different ways the two countries see business opportunities. While American companies see warranties and product return policies as forms of customer service, some Chinese companies see them as a way to make money.

But Li believes these differences are not insurmountable.

"This is not just about an apology, but about learning the cultural differences and about doing business with different cultures," Li says. "You need this understanding before jumping on issuing a formal apology, because people can take it in different value."


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