The ROI of “I’m Sorry”

On September 10, experienced an outage that affected a lot of its customers. For the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the company’s hosting services, DNS services, and secure certificates, this kind of service outage can spell disaster for their online businesses. Years ago I switched hosting providers after such an incident, and is not ignorant to the cause/effect relationship between a service outage and a mass exodus.

Then, Wednesday morning (September 12), I awoke to an email from explaining the outage and what it affected. They also said “we are sorry.” More than that, they issued a full one-month refund for each site customers have hosted on their systems.

All too often, companies have hiccups (large or small) and are less than transparent with their customers. They don’t address the issues head on, and they don’t feel they owe anything to their customers.

When something happens that affects your customers, whether it’s big or small (in your eyes), your customers want to know:

  • What went wrong?
  • What effect did it have to my business?
  • How are you preventing it from happening again?
  • How are you going to make it up to me?

For business-to-business companies and other companies relying on your systems for daily functioning, any service outage means a lot of money lost by your clients. As showed, a simple apology or “sweeping it under the rug” simply isn’t an option. You need to be completely transparent, plus you need to render an apologetic action (such as’s credit) that puts your money where your mouth is.

On the other side of the spectrum, airlines tend to get this wrong. When a flight is cancelled, the airline doesn’t do a whole lot to help you or make amends. All too often I (and most likely you) have been told that a flight has been cancelled and that the next flight is at 5 a.m. the next day.

While that might mean you missed an important meeting that was scheduled on your original arrival day, the bad news doesn’t stop there. In my experience, the airline rarely pays for a hotel for you stay at. I can only remember once when an airline paid for my hotel. Usually it’s up to me to pay for that.

Where GoDaddy had a “we’re sorry and we will pay for it” approach, airlines tend to have a “we’re vaguely sorry, and now you will have to pay for it” attitude.

Most companies fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. The question is: where does your company fall in this spectrum?

Certainly, a company shouldn’t bend to every instance of “crying wolf.” Consumer businesses handle customer complaints fairly well. Amazon, for example, will refund shipping if you paid for an item “next day” and it took a week to arrive.

But business-to-business companies aren’t typically as forward thinking when it comes to this kind of customer support.

Business-to-business companies should take some time to review continuity plans and see what remedies (if any) are built into the process. If there are none, take a page from GoDaddy’s book and figure out how to turn a potential catastrophe into a loyalty-making inflection point.

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