Oops! We Made A Mistake…

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.


  1. Grant Costello on August 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks Suzy, Again it’s the simple things that make a world of difference, and build that trust that all brands need. Still amazes me how many companies never even respond to ‘constructive feedback’ I’ve sent them about service issues they have, let alone apologise. If they really want to know what’s going on in their business, more senior leaders need to be seeing what their customers are saying. They’ll soon work out where the dots aren’t connected. Apparently the Chairman of Breville (son of the founder) reads every single customer feedback card saying “it’s the most important thing I do”.

    So yes Suzy, saying sorry makes a world of difference, as does one other word. One that is also underused in senior leader circles, as seen in this blog piece from Stanford Professor, Bob Sutton. http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/08/it-isnt-just-a-myth-a-little-thanks-goes-a-long-way.html?cid=6a00d83451b75569e20134868a60bf970c

    Bob talks about how simply saying thanks to employees (sincerely of course) is one of the most important things a leader can do.

    “Effective bosses work their magic by piling up one small win after another – and realizing that followers are watching their every move. A host of renowned bosses talk about the importance of thanking people, about the power of this small gesture and how failure to express appreciation to people who are working their tails off is a sign of disrespect.”

    Several examples provided in the blog reflect how acknowledging staff can lead to significant increases in productivity and staff retention. Bob’s blog reinforces how the seemingly trivial things in life make the biggest difference and as Bob points out they are also “a remarkably cheap form of compensation”.

    So Suzy, let’s all hope for a lot more “sorry” and “thanks” coming from our leaders!

    • The Leader's Digest on August 15, 2014 at 3:29 am

      Thanks for your feedback Grant and article link. I absolutely agree, saying thanks is equally as important as saying sorry – such simple words which are so often underused in leadership. Great to hear from you. Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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