Saying You’re Sorry: A Lesson from Mini

It’s never easy when you’ve made a mistake. Do you fess up publicly and apologize? Try to make things better? Or do you keep quiet and hope the error goes unnoticed?

Whether in your personal or professional life, there usually are pressures on you that make it tempting to just ignore a misstep and hope no one notices. That’s perhaps especially true for a professional mistake. As an individual, owning up to a work-related error can put your reputation at stake, and perhaps even your job. As an organization, it’s also a question of reputation and, ultimately, your relationship with your customers/members/audience/constituents. Are you better served by publicly admitting your mistake and apologizing, or do you take a greater risk by drawing attention to your error?

As a society, we tell our children it’s always best to tell the truth. But as individuals, and as adults, we’re tempted to prevaricate and find ways to carve out exceptions to that rule.

Car-maker Mini gives us an example we should emulate.

About a week ago, an email glitch resulted in Mini accidentally sending out unsolicited emails – apparently hundreds of them, in some cases – to motorists on their mailing list. When it realized its mistake, Mini took the high road by issuing an apology.

What an apology it was. Mini sent packages to the aggrieved email recipients containing gifts: a can of Spam, a chocolate rose, and a roll of duct tape to “help fix things up.” Not only did they admit their mistake; they did it with panache and a sense of humor.

Images of the apology note that accompanied the gifts were posted to the photo-sharing site Imgur by one recipient. And suddenly, instead of being battered by criticism, Mini was receiving praise from around the web. “Classy customer service,” raved “Awesome” was the word chosen by Huffington Post.

It’s a brilliant move. Nothing makes people love an institution more than seeing that it can laugh at itself. Mini turned a pretty serious mistake into a seriously brilliant marketing coup.

It’s a lesson all organizations should learn from.

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