Recently, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a CEO, Andrew Benin, whose “I’m sorry” email message to 35,544 customers actually worked. Benin founded a startup called Graza, a company that makes high-quality, squeezable olive oil. During the busy holiday season, customers received late or badly packaged product.
Benin wrote an email that was then sent to every single person who purchased an order in the 60 days prior asking for a second chance. According to the article, “It explained in plain English and candid detail what went wrong and why. It took accountability for those errors and offered a discount on future orders. It was raw, transparent about uncertainty and messy with typos and misspellings.”
The reason why this story was a story at all was because of the incredibly positive response that came after. More than 866 people replied thanking him for his honesty and forgiving the company for their mistakes. Customers said they appreciated it because most corporate statements are formulaic and sound as if they were written by artificial intelligence bots. This was real and honest…it was a pleasant surprise in an era of crisis communications jargon that really says nothing of substance at all.
This article was poignant to me because I have observed recently how reticent people are to say “I’m sorry” to one another in a professional setting. It is as if saying you are sorry makes you appear weak or culpable…or somehow that you are lesser of a thought leader. But you can be sorry even if it was not your fault or when the other party was also in the wrong. You can be sorry even if you completely believe the other person is off base.
Sometimes it is just about creating space for shared experience and mutual understanding. Saying “I am sorry” opens the door to humility, compassion, and openness.
At TealHaus, we will be the first to say we are sorry if something doesn’t go our client or partner’s way. We want that kind of relationship Benin has with his customers. As the article closed, “The curious thing about a memorable apology is that it can leave a company in a better position than before it had any reason to apologize.”