Recovering Business Trust: Listen, Admit, Apologize, Fix

This will be my third and final installment on what has become a mini-series about trust and business. Over the past couple blogs, I reported a trust gap, emphasized the need to extend trust to customers, and outlined an initial list of qualities possessed by trustworthy leaders. This week I’ll look at one of the greatest opportunities every leader and company has when it comes to building trust. That opportunity is standing-up when things go wrong.

Fertile Ground

Whether it is leadership miscalculations or service breakdowns, employees and customers often doubt that leaders and businesses will fulfill promises; particularly if something goes wrong during an interaction. Writing in Forbes Magazine, Ernan Roman shares findings from a 2015 Gallup study which found approximately 50% of customers expect brands will NOT deliver on their promises and only 27% of the employees they surveyed “strongly agreed” that the brands they work for consistently deliver on their promises.

5 Steps

When it comes to leadership errors or service problems, I’ve reduced my formula for trust-building service/leadership recovery to 5 steps which were initially chronicled in my book The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company:

  1. Share a genuine and compassionate reaction to the other person’s distress.
  2. Offer appropriate apologies.
  3. Assure the person you will take care of the issue.
  4. Individually, and through resources, see that the problem is taken care of in a way that meets the satisfaction of the customer/team member and does not recur.
  5. Go one step further and make a gesture that respects the person’s loss or frustration.

Zappos Example

One of my favorite examples of the aforementioned service recovery process in action was captured in my book The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and Wow and it came in the form of a blog posted on the company’s website after a pricing error occurred:

Hey everyone – As many of you may know (and I’m sure a lot of you do

not), is our sister site. is where brandaholics go for their guilt

free daily fix of the brands they crave. Every day, the site highlights discounts on

products ranging up to 70% off. Well, this morning, we made a big mistake in

our pricing engine that capped everything on the site at $49.95. The mistake

started at midnight and went until around 6:00 am PST. When we figured out the

mistake was happening, we had to shut down the site for a bit until we got the

pricing problem fixed.

While we’re sure this was a great deal for customers, it was inadvertent,

and we took a big loss (over $1.6 million – ouch) selling so many items so far

under cost. However, it was our mistake. We will be honoring all purchases that

took place on during our mess up. We apologize to anyone that was

confused and/or frustrated during our little hiccup and thank you all for being

such great customers. We hope you continue to Shop. Save. Smile. at


Aaron Magness

Sr. Director – Brand Marketing & Business Development

Doing the RIGHT Thing

While I am not suggesting every brand needs to take a $1.6 million-dollar pricing loss, I am asserting that leaders fix problems and don’t affix blame. Those leaders and the brands they represent admit shortcomings, acknowledge the impact of their breakdowns, empathize with those who are affected, apologize where appropriate, address root causes, and take action (sometimes painful or costly ones) to live up to their promises to team members and customers.

Success in the Minority

Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” I might alter his quote a bit, in the context of these low-trust times, to read: “Earning trust is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason too few leaders and customer service brands fully engage in its pursuit.”

Are you one of those few?

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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