As community managers, startup founders, product managers, support staff and the like, we hear about it when we screw up. In fact, we probably hear about it more than we hear about our success. That’s healthy – we need to always be checking ourselves to make sure we’re doing our best to serve our customers.

Most of the time when we find out that we screwed up, it’s relatively easy to fix. Reboot a down server, accept a returned item, clarify some confusing instructions…these are all low effort for us to solve. Sometimes we screw up big, though. This is the true test of our commitment to our customers.

This week customer service legend Zappos experienced a technical glitch that left all of the shoes on, one of their sister sites, only $49.95. People really like cheap shoes, and Zappos lost $1.6 Million in sales in the 6 hours before they caught the bug. Oh boy.

This is where Zappos once again proved they have the guts to take responsibility for their own mistakes.

Instead of taking it out on the customer (who has done nothing wrong) by DENYING the transactions, Zappos took the $1.6m hit and let the customers keep their cheap shoes. Why? Because Zappos made the mistake, and they know that it’s better to lose $1.6m in revenue than potentially lose some of those ~32,000 customers.

“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 out little hiccup and thank you all for being such great customers. We hope you continue to Shop. Save. Smile. at“ –Aaron Magness, Zappos Director of Brand Marketing & Business Development

Marketing luminary Seth Godin recently touched on this type of prioritization when he blogged about circles of communication. He emphasizes that we must focus on our true fans first and strangers last, because strangers are “expensive to reach. And the hardest problem is that we’re running out of strangers.”

“One true fan is worth perhaps 10,000 times as much as a stranger. And yet if you’re in search of strangers, odds are you’re going to mistreat a true fan in order to seduce yet another stranger who probably won’t reward you much.”

Sure, it’s easier to talk about an ad campaign (for strangers) than about apologizing, but in the end if we listen to and respect our customers (true fans), we will come out on top.

Those that don’t will eventually get a bad enough reputation that all the ad dollars in the world won’t save them.

Kudos to Zappos, may we all have the strength of character to be like them.

-Evan Hamilton
Community Manager

evan at uservoice dot com

Zappos photo courtesy of Erica Joy