Last mother’s day, we screwed up. Big time.

We had these brand new customizable photo bags we were gonna put up for sale. They looked beautiful, and you could upload any photo to have it baked into the fabric with heat. High quality finish, for $100+. It was perfect for moms, so we scrambled to get it up fast so our customers could order them for Mother’s day delivery (the bags take a couple weeks to create.)

We stayed up all night, but we got it done. And aside from a few early glitches, it worked! The orders came in, and people started writing in to tell us how excited they were to be getting a custom bag. It went on like this for a couple weeks before we found out. Almost a third of our orders had never gone into manufacturing. A technical glitch had prevented us from seeing them, and with a week left until M-Day, it was impossible to get to deliver on our customers’ promises. We were about to have a bunch of very angry customers (and moms!) on our hands. I didn’t know what to do.

I made calls to find out if there was any way we could get the bags done faster. There wasn’t. I went back through our systems to see if we were reading them wrong. We weren’t.

Finally, one-by-one, I started writing emails to our customers. I explained what had happened. I apologized and said this was completely our fault, and that there was no excuse. We’d let them down and I felt terrible. That we would make a complete refund if they didn’t want it anymore, or express ship the bag at no cost (though it still wouldn’t arrive in time) or do anything else that they deemed appropriate.

I gave them my cell phone number in case they wanted to talk to me personally, and I offered to call their moms and apologize and take the blame. I couldn’t sleep that night. Images of massive customer revolt replayed in my head. All the time we’d spent building goodwill for naught. I imagined all the angry phone calls I’d be fielding the next day, the demands to send free bags, or canceled orders… all the Moms I’d be calling to sheepishly apologize for our folly.

It never happened.

Nobody canceled their order. A handful asked for a shipping upgrade … most just wanted their bag. People were upset, understandably, but the emails I got back weren’t spiteful—they were surprised. Surprised that we’d been so honest and owned up to the mistake and offered to make good. Only one person called… to say he’d never gotten an email from a company like that, and to tell us we had his business for life.