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It takes 18 months to create a relationship and 5 minutes to ruin it. Make it an online relationship and those numbers can be cut to 1/3.     As former CEO of a construction firm, I always told our clients, “I can’t promise you there won’t be mistakes, I can’t guarantee people won’t screw up, and I definitely won’t tell you that no one is going to do something that we will later ask “who thought that was a good idea?” What I can promise you is that when that happens, we will take care of it.” I learned early on in my career, that Retention is not just about employees; it’s about customers too.

I’ve learned people don’t care if you make a mistake; they care how you handle it afterwards. I got an email on Sunday night from APPSUMO with the distasteful joke and about one of America’s most beloved actors Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Needless to say “Sumo-Lings” were not amused and APPSUMO had some choices to make. They could pretend it never happened, blame and fire an overzealous intern, or step up to the plate and admit wrongdoing.

We’ve all been there when companies have not treated us as valuable resources. We’ve all shared war-stories of companies that had opportunities to fix a problem and chose profits over people. Those companies usually don’t stay in business long and if they somehow manage to, they have unwittingly created a “worst company ever” marketing team.

Less than 12 hours after I received the offensive email, I received this email from APPSUMO:

Hey Sumo-lings,

We need to sincerely apologize for our distasteful joke in yesterday’s email.

 Michael J. Fox has long been one of our favorite actors. We deeply admire his will to overcome Parkinson’s and have always respected his ability to bring awareness to his situation through humor.

In our poor attempt at imitative humor, we crossed the line and in the process offended many of you, our Sumo-ling family.

It was by no means in our intention to belittle a disease as serious as Parkinson’s – a condition that affects nearly 10 million people around the world. There were a thousand other ways to crack that particular joke and it’s unfortunate that we chose the one we did.

While we know this is only a first step, we are donating all the profits from the Pocket Tripod offer directly to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

We are also updating our email review process to make sure this never happens again. 

Once again, our deepest apologies, and we promise to do better next time. 

There’s so much right with this email. They admitted the mistake, they made immediate amends as best they could, and then provided a solution to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Finally, just to make sure we didn’t miss the point, they once again apologized and committed to doing better next time. It has all the points a customer like me needs to give them another chance.

In the impersonal world of online retailers and marketing many companies forget that at the other end of the email is a real person. I was encouraged by APPSUMO’s immediate response, and care about their clients.   Customer relations is more than platitudes and being nice on the phone, it’s about being the type of company your customer wants to tell people about.  Customer retention is an underserved market.  When I speak and train on retention, most companies bring me in to teach their leaders how to use Proclivities to drastically reduce employee voluntary turnover.  Everyone knows that replacing an employee is an expensive endeavor, so is replacing a customer! It’s always less expensive and more profitable to cultivate the relationships you already have.  Employees leave when they don’t feel heard or appreciated by the company, so do customers.   My favorite part of APPSUMO’s apology was their acknowlegment that donating to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is “only a first step.”

APPSUMO’s joke was in poor taste, it never should have happened and their writers could probably use some sensitivity training. Regardless, when they made a mistake, they set about making it right.

And really, isn’t that what you want; a company that stands behind its products and in front of its customers?

I don’t work for APPSUMO, I am not an affiliate, and I don’t personally know anyone from there. I am however, a customer and a business owner and I take this lesson to heart as I hope many other business owners will. In business, there are problems and opportunities; the wisest businesses will turn their problems into opportunities.   Handled appropriately opportunities disguised as problems may cost you money in the short term but build you a sustainable business with a great reputation in the long term.

Seanlai is CEO of The Retention Experts and is an internationally known speaker, author, coach and consultant. She is the founder of Proclivities:Science of Connection and Seanlai helps companies and individuals connect and strengthen leadership, retain talent and increase their profitability. Her new book, The Mysterious Power will be available in stores 2nd Quarter 2016. Connect directly with Seanlai at or  via twitter

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