Greetings. None of us like to say we’re “sorry.” Sorry we forgot your birthday. Sorry we missed today’s meeting. Sorry we didn’t let you know about our change in plans. Sorry our incredible products didn’t work as well as we intended. Sorry we didn’t have the part you needed in our stock or that it took us forever to respond to your service request.

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

Yes, Elton John and Bernie Taupin were probably right in 1976 when they wrote their popular song “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” And while this tune wasn’t about business or our lives dealing with organizations, it certainly could have been. Because just like many personal relationships that go bad, sometimes our relationships with companies also go bad. Often it’s simply unavoidable, we change and the companies we do business with are either unwilling or incapable of changing with us. And that’s okay. But sometimes it happens because they decide to change without asking us. And that’s less okay, because it suggests that they either know better than we do or that they believe there are better and more valuable customers out there.

Which brings us to the curious case of J.C. Penney, which today decided after a failed change in strategy to ask its customers for forgiveness. Yes, the folks at this venerable retailer (that began in 1902 in the town of Kemmerer, Wyoming) took to Facebook and YouTube to say that they were so “sorry” for trying to reinvent themselves at the expense of their loyal customers. Sorry that they tried to become more upscale, trendier, and way more focused on a decidedly younger demographic without letting anyone in on the secret. A secret that failed to resonate with their old or new customers. And now they were asking their old customers…the unhip shoppers who loved the old Penneys…to come back with the following mea culpa:

It’s no secret. We’ve made some changes.
Some you’ve liked and others you didn’t.
We’ve heard you – and we’re listening.
Let us know what you think.

“Sorry” is one of the hardest words in business. And we can avoid having to say it very often if we commit to being as “customer-centric” as possible. Not that Penney’s old customers were sufficient to carry the day. But one might imagine the company asking them to be part of any effort to reinvent the business and keep it relevant in changing times.

That part of any business is no secret.

And soon we’ll see if this public apology works.

We win in business and in life when we work hard to maintain our relationships. And when we try to change and grow together.