In late Spring, Rent the Runway had a problem. Its business was multiplying because of Rent the Runway Unlimited, the service that accounts for 70% of its revenue. The subscription lets a user rent four items at a time and is meant to supplement their buy-it-once wardrobe. But the company’s technology systems that power the entire operation keep crashing, bringing its New Jersey warehouse to a standstill. Items weren’t arriving on time, and customer service was slow to respond, making Rent the Runway’s social media replies a minefield of anger, unresponsiveness and confusion.

Unlimited is much more operationally complex than Reserve, which put Rent the Runway on the map and allows users to rent designer clothing for special occasions. Renting a dress for a wedding is somewhat predictable—both the date the user needs it by and the date she will send it back. But Unlimited allows anyone to keep an item for as long as they would like, making it much harder to predict inventory turns and product availability. As the business grew to over 100,000 subscribers, things started to go awry, especially as customer service response times got out of hand or customers received no response at all.

On July 1st, CEO Jennifer Hyman emailed customers apologizing for the troubles and outlining how it would fix the situation:

We are sorry. There is nothing more important to all of us at Rent the Runway than our members and the community we’ve built. And we know we’ve let you down with recent issues with our service.

We hear your frustrations and are working around the clock to reestablish the level of customer service you both expect and deserve from Rent the Runway.

[…]

Everyone here at RTR is committed to delivering the level of experience you deserve, and we want to get this right for you. Please feel free to respond with any feedback—your continued support and insights are what drive this company.

We are beyond grateful for your commitment to Rent the Runway. Thank you for sticking with us through this exciting and sometimes bumpy journey.

The email was the first acknowledgment of problems that had been brewing for months, however it was written in a solid tone that understood the gravity of the situation and outlined concrete steps the company was doing to remedy it. These included increasing the size of its customer service staff (a good sign); making it easier to cancel a subscription (not a good sign); and improving its systems (a good sign).

But the issues would only compound further. On September 14th, nearly 45 days after the first email, a customer sent a Tweet that called out the company for failing to improve the situation. Hyman replied:

I am present and doing all I can. Currently I’m doing customer service instead of playing with my 2 young babies on a Saturday so I appreciate your vocalness to improve things but please understand that we are all working hard and giving 110%

The response was quite surprising, the first among many that would strike the wrong tone for a service loved by many but clearly going through growing pains. There was no reason for Hyman to berate the customer for interrupting her Saturday, especially since the problem is self-inflicted. It also reversed progress from the first email, which had been a step in the right direction.

Around this time the company opened its second warehouse in Texas, which would better serve West Coast customers and alleviate some of the pressure on the New Jersey warehouse. But the problems continued. On September 20th, Hyman emailed customers again about all of the issues, but some reported never receiving the email. It said, in part:

We are committed to always being transparent and giving you the real play-by-play as we grow our business together. Over the last week and into the next few weeks, we are implementing significant changes to our operation. These changes will greatly improve your experience by increasing the selection you will have from our Unlimited closet. However, in the short-term as we implement these changes, we know some of you are experiencing delays in shipments and therefore longer response times from our customer service team. Please know that the changes we are making will very quickly lead to more availability of the items you want and the consistent quality of customer experience you deserve.

We are working around the clock (myself included!) to implement these operational transformations as quickly as possible. Upgrading systems while still running the business at full speed is complex. We know that we will make some mistakes, so for the next month, if you have time sensitive events, please order a few days earlier than you normally would. We are sorry, and we own this. Everything we are doing today is to improve your Rent the Runway membership for the long-term and you should feel this improvement within the next three weeks.

We are beyond grateful for your commitment to Rent the Runway.

While the first part of the email was reasonably rote, the final paragraph marked the second weird response, specifically the “(myself included!)” section. This aside was not necessary since there is no need to convey that the CEO is working hard, which is her job. It then put it on the customer to fix her own problem, saying she needs to order her items earlier to get them on time.

At the end of September, Recode reported that hundreds of customers had never received their Reserve rentals for special events. These issues threw what should be memorable and gratifying days into turmoil. Hyman told Recode:

We upgraded a huge tech system in the warehouse this week which caused some orders to be delayed by a day which then in turn caused influx of incremental calls into customer service that we’re digging through…. Good news is, [the] new system, which will be in full effect next week, dramatically improves inventory availability and our warehouse efficiency. So short-term pain for long-term better experience for our customers.

This response was the third odd one from Hyman. It never said sorry or offered anything to customers for their continued troubles, but basically said you can handle some pain now so it’s better later.

Finally, on September 27th, Hyman emailed customers again. Rent the Runway would stop accepting new customers and new Reserve orders for two weeks so it could fix these changes. The tone, this time, was more conceitful:

I’m reaching out to further update you on delays that some of you have experienced in receiving your orders over the last few weeks. The delays, which began September 13th, are due to unforeseen issues associated with a significant software transformation that we are executing in our fulfillment operation. Our technical team is working to fix these issues as quickly as possible. We expect this upgrade to be completed by October 15th or sooner, at which point you will experience much improved availability of styles.

You rely on us for meaningful events in your life and to get dressed everyday. We realize we have let some of you down, and we need to fix it. Here is what we are doing to make it right:

[…]

We will continue to work tirelessly to service all your orders during this period of disruption. As we shared last week, you will continue to receive your subscription orders, but there may be delays of an additional 1 to 2 days until October 15th. You will be able to place orders during this period, but we advise that you order items a few days in advance of your normal schedule.

We will be proactively reaching out to those of you who have been most affected by the delays to make this right. Please know that this will take us time. If you’ve already reached out to us, we are working around-the-clock to respond as soon as possible.

This email was Hyman’s most transparent response yet. She promised to make it right for people who have been affected, which Recode later confirmed meant a $200 credit towards one’s next order. But there is still something off-putting about how much of the tone and verbiage projects an undertone of guilt toward the customer—that she should feel bad for Rent the Runway and not for herself. As far as apologies go, this one is more dry than personal, the latter of which would have been much more effective.

Finally, on October 8th, Rent the Runway said it was operating back at normal capacity and taking new customers again, a week ahead of schedule. This update was true under-promising and over-delivering, which instantly made it feel like Rent the Runway had finally done something right and pleased customers again.

Stuff goes wrong all the time in business, and these problems are purely the result of growing pains, which are a good sign. But the way a company communicates these challenges and make them right greatly determines how customers react. Software companies often provide real-time status updates and timelines when their systems go down, something Rent the Runway could have benefited from over the past six months. While some customer service tactics advocate for solving problems individually, companies can benefit from speaking out frequently, clearly and consistently in a social media-driven age.

Rent the Runway has been called a transformational company changing the way people shop, which has helped it build a strong brand at the intersection of style and sustainability. But, as you’ve read about previously, one’s Brand rises and falls based off of execution, and is never set in stone. Rent the Runway dug itself a large hole this year. While it’s likely that the company will recover and shake off these troubles, it would benefit from more proactive communication and empathy.

Owning up to your mistakes is the first step.