The Sorry State of Business Apologies

Social media is like the Wild West right now, with information and interaction moving, largely self-policed, at incredible speeds.

The inevitable fall-out is that people are making lots of mistakes – whether they are lapses of judgment or attention, misunderstanding or getting caught in plain old-fashioned lies.

The power of these “mistakes” seem to get lost in all the debates about controlling, populating, participating and monetizing all this content and communications.

I think that’s a mistake.

In a new marketplace where intellectual property is increasingly King, your most valuable and lucrative commodity is actually your reputation.

The key to managing your reputation is having the ability to say, “I’m sorry” when the situation requires it.


My business partner and I were recently screwed. We paid to call in to a multi-day telesummit on social media which was was poorly run, had a horrific number of technical issues and showcased a spotty level of speaker quality.

In short, we felt that we didn’t get what we paid for.

When we told this to the producer, she informed us that – because we had not notified her of our unhappiness earlier in the proceedings – we would not be entitled to getting our money back.

The whole incident made me incredibly irate. However, I chalked a lot of it up to being my own fault. I should have listened to my gut and realized that this woman and her event were “ick incarnate” and never given her my money in the first place.

But what I couldn’t let go of was the fact that that this woman NEVER ONCE said, “I apologize.”

  • Not after the phone lines went on the fritz during the event.
  • Not after we complained about all the post-event sales spam from her and her followers.
  • Not after we asked for our money back.

This lack of humility and ethics bothered me far more than the loss of a couple hundred dollars and days of my time.

The only thing I wanted from this woman (and the thing that would financially cost her the least) was for her to say, “I’m sorry.” And she simply, couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do it.

She’s not alone.


When did it become so hard for people to apologize? Wasn’t a return to more customer-centric service model supposed to be one of the few happy by-products of this recession? When did apologies, when you finally do receive them, become some hollow?

For example, this is an apology: “I am sorry I said something that offended you.”

This is not: “I am sorry you were offended by something I said.

(The later implies that I didn’t really do anything all that wrong, but I’m sorry you were such a temperamental bitch and nagged me until I was forced to say something that sounds like an apology so you would leave me alone.)

Ironically, in the weeks following “the bad lady’s seminar” we encountered similar technical mishaps on phone-based seminars produced by both Peter Shankman and Elizabeth Marshall.

In both cases, as soon as things started to go wonky on the call, the facilitators stepped in and apologized, immediately followed up via their online communications channels to explain what happened, apologized AGAIN, and set up new calls.

To be honest, at the time, both of these professionals helped to restore my faith in my Internet brethren.


As Nancy Gibbs from TIME so eloquently put it, “an apology is that rare instrument that restores strength though an act or surrender. This is not a matter of etiquette. It’s a matter of survival.”

I take her words, and the act of apologizing seriously.

I’m no hypocrite. I make mistakes. All the time. And, I agonize over every last one of them. But perhaps sometimes in all that agony, I forget to apologize.

So if I have offended, wronged or upset you (and not even known about it), I’d like to invite you to contact me and ask for your apology.

As much as it sucks to be reminded of what I’ve done wrong, it sucks far worse to build a company pretending that I have done everything right.


4 Responses to The Sorry State of Business Apologies

  1. nicoledebeaufort says:

    This is a very timely post as I felt compelled to apologize to some very important to me colleagues this morning. As our world moves at an increasingly accelerated pace, it seems to me that genuine humility and ownership of when we mess up is so crucial. Without it we’d all be like little robots not computing that we’re creating a destructive wake with our less-than-good actions. Thanks for another great post. Time to add you to my blogroll. Rock on, you rockstars!

  2. Nancy Lyons says:

    Really great post and an issue that seems especially critical these days. If we don’t learn accountability, people will take their dollars elsewhere. Budgets are much harder to spend and much easier to lose. We need to be able to acknowledge when the value of our offering falls short of their expectations. Love where your blog is going!

  3. Wendy Amundson says:

    I think the key to your whole post is this: “The only thing I wanted from this woman (and the thing that would financially cost her the least) was for her to say, “I’m sorry.” And she simply, couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do it.”

    Why, why, WHY is this so hard? So often, a simple apology can turn a bad customer service experience into a good one. And conversely, the lack of apology can turn a bad situation ugly.

    Might I add that saying “I understand” (which is what I heard repeatedly today from the billing dept of my health care provider) does not equal an apology.

  4. JoAnne Kane says:

    I am thinking that the lack of sincerely offered apologies is directly related to the rise of litigation in this country. Honestly, people are so freaked out about being sued that they stumble all over themselves to avoid saying the “S” word. My favorite un-apologies are “mistakes were made”(but definitely not by me)or “you must have misunderstood” (because I never make mistakes). Meanwhile their lawyers breathe a sigh of relief.

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