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Is it Easier to Apologize than Ask for Permission?

So, I was all set to explore the notion of it being easier to apologize than to ask for permission, by using examples from my own experience in the hospitality industry, until a visit to Trader Joe’s made me rethink my entire approach. This brand that I absolutely love and respect had discontinued one of my favorite items and didn’t even ask my permission! I know, I know…completely irrational, but that’s the risk a company runs when loyal fans feel betrayed.

Anyway, here’s what happened:

Maybe it was the fact that navigating life in a Covid world feels like walking on tectonic plates that caused my abreaction, but when I learned that a tried-and-true favorite that we stocked in our freezer with for at least 8 years had been discontinued because it wasn’t popular, I lost my sh*t.

“Wait, WHAT?” I exclaimed!!! “Not popular enough???? I really tried to reign in my overwhelming sense of betrayal and not take it out on the friendly and informative “Crew Member”…but alas, in a split second, everything I knew about the business of branding and marketing went out the window and I went full Bubba Gump on him with my recitation of cauliflower-forward products now filling the freezer in place of my beloved creamy polenta with spinach and carrots (there, I said it.)

Et tu, Traitor Joe’s?!

My husband, Tom, told me my outburst provided a great source of amusement for others in the frozen food aisle and that I was in no way mean-spirited. Whew…because I was mortified by my public display of dismay. “Why don’t you write them when we get home,” he suggested…and so I did.

Their website made it very easy for me to contact them by providing a dedicated Discontinued Product Feedback Form that allowed space enough to vent with the assurance that someone at Trader Joe’s was listening. Clearly, I wasn’t their first disgruntled customer.

Within minutes I received an email response. It was written in a way that, while not personally crafted just for me, made me feel completely understood, respected… not like some raving lunatic. Although

what brand doesn’t want to engender that kind of passion and loyalty?

The amount of time, thought, effort, and understanding that Trader Joe’s put into that seemingly simple click on a website that literally invited me to vent my frustration, made me feel like a valued customer, and one they wanted to keep. It reminded me that in business you often have to make tough, unpopular decisions that are going to make people unhappy, and that you have to be prepared to take a hit for it, graciously.

There are a lot of brands in every industry who get it wrong…who all too easily dispense an apology to get a disgruntled customer off their back. It’s just lip service, and you can feel it. But it’s the Trader Joe’s and other exceptional brands in hospitality, retail, you name it, who understand that it takes a lot of hard work to make it easier to apologize than ask permission.

1 Comment

Nico Sheers
Nico Sheers
Aug 05, 2021

Great column! We can identify with the heartbreak of discontinued favorites!

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