Recently I received an email from e-book company Kobo which started something like this:

Oops! We Made A Mistake…We’re sorry – we messed up. We want to apologise for any confusion this may have caused…

I was surprised at my response.

The irony is, even though they had admittedly stuffed up in this instance (and ticked me off in the process) the way they handled the mishap ultimately left a positive impression on me.

I no longer felt irked. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I felt better about the organisation after they made the mistake than I did before it took place.

Not only did they go up on my personal cool-o-meter, it also increased my sense of customer loyalty.

It made me think about the power of saying sorry as leaders – without any subsequent excuse or ‘buts’; just simply owning up to our blunders in an open and sincere way.

It’s equally as important to say sorry to colleagues, bosses and team members as it is to our customers.

Why don’t we do it more often?

We can hesitate in saying sorry because it can make us feel uncomfortable – even when we know an expression of regret from us is in order.

Here’s why saying sorry is so powerful:

It means you take full responsibility for your part in any interaction (see the 51% rule in any conflict for more on this).
It models the behaviour you want to see in others.
It shows you’re human – and that making mistakes (as an individual and as an organisation) is inevitable and that each mistake can teach us something.
It builds trust, credibility and strengthens relationships.
It makes people feel more positively towards you.

A couple of points to note when apologising:

  • Don’t say “sorry, but…” Saying the word but negates the preceding apology.
  • Follow up with, “and here’s what I’m going to do to rectify/prevent it from happening again.” Or, “this is what I have learned.”

The key thing I learned from this situation? When you’re sorry, never be afraid to say so. Just make sure your apology comes from an authentic place.

And Kobo? They got a loyal customer from using these two simple words.