Tag Archives: Branding

Why Is “I’m Sorry” So Difficult?


I am a proud member of Rotary International, an organization where service above self is its objective and whose efforts help millions of people locally as well as around the world.  In fact, Rotary has been instrumental in helping to completely eradicate polio on this planet, an achievement that is very close to realization.

As a benefit of this membership, not only do I get to work with some great people, but I am exposed to the inspired writings of some famous and not-so-famous people.  In the latest edition of the Rotarian magazine, I was provoked by an article by Joe Queenan entitled “I’m [not] Sorry.”  In his writing, Joe takes us on a historical journey into the act of apologizing, and how what was once considered the morally correct thing to do, has in the U.S. morphed into something that has become “so rote, gutless, emaciated, tortuous, insincere, and self-aggrandizing” as to make it worthless to the victim.  Historically, begging for forgiveness was not just a saying; it was what was expected by the person apologizing, that there be some groveling involved.  Today, politicians go so far as to make it our fault with the apology that goes something like, “I regret that the actions I am accused of having committed caused any undo pain and/or suffering.”  In other words, “It’s too bad that you’re so thin-skinned as to have taken offense, get over it.”

Never doubt that I won’t try to put a marketing spin on this, it’s what I do.

This article got me thinking. How many companies, in an effort to protect their brand, fail so miserably when after the inevitable mistake, they simply do not thoroughly apologize to their customer?  Many companies will make the attempt by offering money back, or the exchange for a new product, or even the coupon that allows you to come back for free.  And, don’t get me wrong, these are all good moves in the right direction.  But what effect would it have if the CEO were to write a personal letter of apology, begging that the customer stay as a customer?  Would this amount of “groveling” have any added effect?  How would this action make you feel?

In one of his latest blogs, a good friend and confidant, Shawn Kincaid, writes about Finding your Mission and Core Values as a prerequisite to setting your business apart from the competition.  It’s a great article and one that will make you think.  I recommend spending time with it.

My take on this is that if your core values include the priority of valuing the relationship you have with your customer then it must necessarily include the importance of admitting your mistakes and begging for forgiveness.  And I’m really not saying that the customer is always right, there are indeed times where the customer is just plain wrong.  But when your mistake happens, and you know it will, then having a formalized public relations policy for saying “I’m Sorry,” can go a long way towards improving that all important customer relationship.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.



Is This a “Teachable Moment” Chicago Cubs?


My wife grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago.  I guess since she came from the north side, she was obligated to be a Chicago Cubs fan.  Regardless of what she was obligated to do, over the years she became a huge fan and has told me many stories about going to Wrigley Field with her grandfather as a young girl and then later with friends from Northwestern University, stealing those hazy summer afternoons to go sip a beer and enjoy a hotdog under a glorious Chicago sun.

For the thirteen years we’ve been married, the experience of an afternoon game at Wrigley Field has only been in my imagination, as we never got a chance to go see a Cubs game until this last May.  Needing to travel to Chicago to attend the memorial service for her Father, my wife decided it was finally time for me to go to a game and it would be a nice break from the emotions of the visit.  In preparation, she went to the Cubs website, purchased very expensive box seats, and surprised me with the news one evening over dinner.

Having arrived in Chicago from Kansas City, we did a few errands and then jumped on the “EL” to head for Wrigleyville.  To our dismay, a light rain was falling but we were well prepared having brought the proper rain gear to stay nice and dry.  As we entered the ballpark, we stopped at the first available stand for the requisite ice cold beer and hotdog and then headed up the ramp to our box seats.  My first glimpse of Wrigley Field was held for at least three minutes, taking in the ivy on the outfield wall, the bleachers on all of the buildings across the street, the steel beams that meant some poor souls had marginal site lines and then to the large green scoreboard where we saw, “Today’s game has been postponed and will be played at a later date.”

After recovering from the huge disappointment and cursing our luck, we went to the customer services window to see what our options were.   We were told by a Cubs employee that they had no information now, but that we were to go to the website and see when the game would be scheduled.  We explained that we were only in Chicago for the weekend and weren’t sure when we would be returning and if we could refund our tickets.  With the emotionless face of a person required to answer the same question over and over, we were told that nothing could be done that day.

You’re probably wondering, “Where is this story going David?”  This is where we get into the marginal-at-best customer service experience we have had since that day in Chicago, with the hope that, aha, this is the opportunity to learn what not to do to a loyal fan (a.k.a. customer).

We spent the next four weeks monitoring the Chicago Cubs website, to see what process we needed to undertake to get a refund on our rather expensive tickets.   We then called the customer number provided with the tickets.  Since it had been over four weeks since the original date of the game, our bright customer service representative told us that the date by which a refund could be secured was that very day and since “the procedure” was that our request needed to be in the Cub’s office, there was nothing they could do.  Finding no help there, we called our credit card company to refuse the charges, which was overruled when the Cubs denied the request.

Now, my wife is not someone that takes kindly to this sort of treatment, even if she often wears her Cubs hat watching the games on WGN and drinking her beer with a Cubs koozie.   This was a matter of what was right and wrong.  As her mother had taught her, when you are not satisfied with the outcome of a situation, then write a letter, and that she did!

In her letter she made an impassioned plea for consideration of the circumstances, that we didn’t live in Chicago, and that she was a lifetime fan.  In this whole situation, the one right thing that the Cub’s organization did was to call us soon after they had received the letter.  But that was about all they did right.

The kind young man informed us that since the rescheduled game had just been played, there was nothing that could be done.  “You mean we could have gotten a refund when we called earlier but were told it was past the deadline?!?”  Why yes, they had extended the date of requests (unknown to us) however now, the policy was that nothing could be done.

You’re probably asking yourself, okay, here is a loyal customer, who has received incorrect information.  Good customer service says you do something about it, like maybe tickets to a future game.  That was not to be the case and in fact we raised that possibility only to be told that it was against some MLB/players’ union rules to give tickets away.  This I know to be false as I have received just that kind of offer from my hometown Royals team.  Policy prevails and we are without a reasonable solution.

The Cubs have a brand, which is a promise to their fans, that since they can’t seem to win a pennant, they will at least treat their fans better than anywhere else.  As business owners, we all strive for the kind of customer loyalty that is evident in my wife.  Quoting policy is not the way to reward that loyalty.

In conclusion, we have asked that this matter be escalated but as of the writing of this post, it is still unresolved.  I’m not sure my wife will ever make the effort to purchase tickets again, so I am left with only the imagination of going to a Cubs game.  I wonder, is this a “teachable moment?”  Let’s have a beer and talk about it.