The value of saying sorry

I haven’t written for quite a while but a recent situation with work has provided me with a lesson I want to share.

This week I made a mistake at work with some data. Not a big mistake, but enough that an email was sent to around 300 of our membership who shouldn’t have received that particular email.

If that had happened to you, what would you have done? Hid in a corner and hoped no-one noticed? Denied all knowledge and blamed someone else?

This very week I had an email of apology from a well-known supermarket chain who had sent an incorrect email to me, and we chose to take a similar approach by holding our hands up, apologising and taking the opportunity to engage with those individuals in a more personal way.

And the response?

Well really good. Of the 300 emailed, 20% had already responded back within five hours to thank us and provide their latest personal information and some even offered ways they may wish to re-engage and give back to the community.

This is the response we had hoped for, and somewhat expected, but the strength of the response has still taken us somewhat by surprise.

And so what have we learnt from this?

  1. Mistakes happen: No matter how how robust your processes or good your people, mistakes will always happen. And especially the more complicated the work you are doing
  2. Don’t be afraid to say sorry: Our natural reaction to making a mistake might be to want to shift the blame or pretend it hasn’t happened, especially if the consequences of holding our hands up may be unclear or unfavourable. We need to fight our natural tendencies as saying sorry, aside from just being the ‘right thing to do’ is important for our businesses and in creating communities. Just  think, what would you want someone to do to you?
  3. Be honest and transparent: Following on from saying sorry, it is important that our communications are open, honest and transparent. How else will our communities trust us? And it’s not just about gaining trust, honesty unities communities and teams. Margaret Heffernan talks about this in her article “Make the most of your mistake
  4. Find ways to use your mistakes for good: Where appropriate, look for opportunities to use your mistakes for good, whether for your business, staff or wider society. If you can, take the opportunity to use your communications to engage your community further
  5. Learn from them: Even if you can make something good from your mistakes, it doesn’t mean that you want to make the mistake again and so learn from them, fix the processes and work out ways to make sure they don’t happen again.


Yesterday I responded to a marketing email from an online printing company I regularly use. I had an item in my basket that I hadn’t checked out (because of the added cost of delivery) and so they were ‘helpfully’ reminding me that I still had this item to check out and with the incentive of free delivery.

Now this seemed perfect, the very barrier stopping me from completing my sale had just been removed. Or had it?

When I went online to check out my item I couldn’t see how the free delivery was being applied. Now normally at this point I would just give up and delete the email but I thought ‘No, I am going to get to the bottom of this’.

So I called customer services, only had to wait a couple of minutes, and then spoke to the individual on the other end of the line. When I explained the problem, she responded immediately with ‘I’m very sorry but free delivery only applies to orders over £40’.

Now I’m sorry, but if you are going to send personalised emails about a specific item in your customer’s account then you should be sure that what the email offers, actually applies to the recipient.

I expressed my displeasure at this and at this point, wasn’t expecting anything else, however she responded immediately to say she couldn’t give me free delivery but could give me 50% off the entire order. This worked out as more than the saving of free delivery.

That is why I have called this post ‘redeemed’ – the company made a mistake with their marketing but greatly made up for it with their customer service, and ended up with a happier customer than if I had just got the free delivery in the first place.

So remember, everyone makes mistakes but the key to customer delight is to admit it and make up for it.

I will definitely be continuing to use that company in the future.