Subscribe to Inc. magazine
CUSTOMER SERVICE

5 Steps to Saying You're Sorry

It's a mistake to refuse an apology to angry customers. Here's how to get really good at saying 'I'm sorry.'
Advertisement

Years ago when working for a large corporation I attended a meeting that was hosted by our corporate counsel and loss prevention department. The gist was to educate all of us on the pitfalls of saying "I'm sorry" when dealing with a customer service issue or complaint. Their concern was that this might be considered an admission of liability. After several of us voiced a concern we were finally told that we could tell upset customers that "we were sorry for how they felt."

This new direction was one that I was very uncomfortable with, but to this day I remember the rigid interpretations and shake my head and smile. It seems that some corporate staffers like to create policies that deal with a statistically small number of people. So we see these policies developed due to the 2 percent but applied to everyone.

So I am going to share to share a very brief view on unhappy customers. First we all know the statistical impact on our reputations by the customer who is unhappy with our service, as well as those that are happy. Needless to say those that are unhappy are much more likely to share their bad service story than those that are satisfied. But there is a group that is often overlooked. This group starts out unhappy but is ultimately so overwhelmed by your recovery that they become customers for life.

Recovery and its strategy in service is key to successful customer service. For all you linear thinkers out there the first step should always be to get it right the first time and meet expectation. But we all know that doesn't always happen. When it doesn't, we need to recover. Done the right way, the customer who has the experience will tell a story. Not how bad their initial experience was but the story of how well they were treated, respected and cared for in the recovery.

So here are some steps to consider:

  1. I make an effort to speak to every customer that has a bad experience, it means a lot to them and it helps me in both establishing expectation in our marketing and sales as well as identifying process problems and applying a proactive approach.
  2. I gather as many facts as I can then call and ask the customer to tell me their experience. Do not call and tell them you have all the facts and what you will do.  Let the customer tell you their story.
  3. I Apologize! I actually and sincerely convey my regret that we failed them and accept responsibility.
  4. I offer more than one option to resolve their issue, putting them in control.
  5. I follow up when the recovery is complete and insure we met the recovery expectation.

This model has helped to me to maintain a very high customer service standard, especially when the inevitable error occurs.

What are your recovery methods?

Last updated: Feb 3, 2012

GLEN BLICKENSTAFF | Columnist | CEO of The Iron Door company

Glen Blickenstaff is the CEO of The Iron Door company, which makes high-end doors and windows. Glen has a track record of turning around and managing retail, building and financial companies.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: