If you haven’t been keeping an eye on the controversy, Apple made its Maps application available to everyone a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a pretty big disaster and, understandably, customers who are used to Apple-style perfection aren’t happy.

Tim Cook took the unusual step of making an apology on the home page, saying the product wasn’t up to scratch. “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better,” he said.

It’s a large piece of humble pie from the company that obsesses over details like the material used in the floor of its retail stores. And a revelation the company has a lot more work ahead of it if it wants to compete with Google.

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But the statement underlines something much more important: how the internet age has changed how businesses fess up for their mistakes.

The digital age has made information so freely available, so quickly, that everything you do is amplified. As a business, if you create something extraordinary there’s a chance it could go viral and end up providing you with literal overnight fame and success.

On the other hand, everything else you do that’s not so good can be made even worse by the fact people know about it. And it won’t just be your customers, either. If a business does something particularly bad, there’s absolutely no reason to think that other people won’t catch on and make an example out of you.

Apple knows this, and that’s exactly why Cook made his mea culpa — something it rarely, if ever, has done before.

And yet the actual admission of error isn’t so much the important part of this equation, but rather the speed at which it’s made. Ruslan Kogan found this out last year when his company experienced some shipping problems. Not only did he apologise on the company’s blog, but he gave everyone a $25 gift voucher.

There’s hesitation among some companies to say sorry for things that go wrong, that somehow an admission of guilt may repel customers. Exactly the opposite: saying “sorry” is not what people expect and, as a result, will help improve any loyalty that may be broken.

But that loyalty depends on speed.

If you know there’s a problem, you can’t just wait a few days to make sure everything is okay. You need to be on Facebook and Twitter as soon as you can, even just letting customers know you’re on top of things. Even now, some entrepreneurs will dismiss this type of thinking. But in an age where hackers can target your business just because they can, leaving yourself open for any sort of criticism is a mistake.

An apology is good, if appropriate. And you should consider making one if circumstances allow. But the more important lesson here is speed — if you’re late, you may as well not say anything at all.

*This article was originally published at SmartCompany

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