The importance of sorry

Back in 2009, Best Buys did something extraordinary on Twitter, they launched 'The Twelpforce'. The idea was that Best Buys' help-force (see what they did there with the ‘tw’…) would be available to take buyer questions online and registered employees would be able to help out, providing new levels of service and brand engagement beyond the sale.

It was genius. It embedded service as a core element of marketing. It showed what would happen if you just said “sorry.”

For generations the adage has been “the customer is always right.” Many have argued that the customer isn’t always right, and those contrary peeps may be right.  Sometimes the customer is just plain wrong. Sometimes the customer is expecting diamonds when all they’re purchased is coal. But Twelpforce wasn’t about saying ‘the customer is always right.” Nope, Twelpforce was about being available to help people understand why something was or wasn’t’ available. How something worked. Why some things didn’t work. And managing that expectation in a kind and generous way. They said 'sorry' in a way that inferred 'we're here to help' as well as 'sorry it didn't work out the way you expected.'

Why did Best Buys do this? They didn’t need to do it. They had a unique brand position and even in a crowded market place they were getting business. They weren’t suffering with a massive downturn – arguably anything but. Amazon wasn't yet a threat. The iPhone was new, DVD’s were still a thing, X-Box was in demand. These guys had more customers than Hulk Hogan has had spray tans. They didn't need to make service a core part of what they offered: they choose to.


When a market is hot, it’s easy to think you don’t need to invest in customer service. Perhaps there’s an underlying feeling that all you need to do is complete the job. Ironically this is the time to invest most in building positive perceptions about your brand, driving brand trust forward and ensuring you have a good reputation for service as well as product.

Hot markets go cold. The GFC was proof of this. One minute you're up, the next minute you're gone. Plenty of big businesses rode out the storm through innovation and through investing heavily in new ideas outside the box. But if you're a small business in New Zealand - in a small town, say Wanaka - heady investment in innovation may not be an option. Instead if your booming market goes bust, you want to be one of those businesses that not only survives but thrives. Thrives because you're a brand name people don't want to loose. A brand that people trust. A brand they want to support.

When operating in a strong market, a seasoned player may begin to see customers are numbers or orders to be fulfilled not as humans engaging a service or buying a product. It's easy to understand how a business might get cocky - plenty of enquiries, a long list of possible clients. But often when something goes wrong, these are the businesses that fail to recognise the risk of reputation.

An example of this recently passed by our team. A disappointed client (whose deadlines had been missed severally) let off steam and the owner of the company, instead of saying a simple "sorry", berated the client and blamed everyone else in the chain, all in a bid to “clear the businesses name.” The great irony being this action did the very opposite. A Google review placed in the heat of the moment will etch this experience into the mind of that customer and all prospects going forward.

A simple “sorry" would have given this brand the chance to explain what went wrong, cooly and calmly. Anything after a calm "sorry," everything else that is said is more easily accepted. Brand trust goes through the roof. Goodwill skyrockets. Poor Google reviews evaded.


Twelpforce wasn’t just a great customer satisfaction tool. It was a PR booster, an employee motivator. By empowering the team to say “hey we’ll try to help best we can", it took interactions from doing to selling to engaging. It was a moment in brand history that proved the way you treat customers is as important as what you sell them.

In any market, particularly a heated one, the customer doesn’t always need to be right but you do need to know when the say “sorry, things didn't work out” or “sorry, we got it wrong”. Sorry isn’t acquiescing or being weak. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that tells the customer you genuinely care.

Next time something goes wrong, or a customer complains, try starting with a sorry. You might be surprised how quickly a bad situation can be turned into a great opportunity for positive reviews!


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