The Business Apology

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The business apology can be worth its weight in gold when done properly. With an intentional strategy, it becomes a part of the overall customer experience and part of a plan involving customer acquisition, retention, and loyalty. It goes without saying that an apology is critical when a company has made a mistake. Just as important, it needs to be part of the customer service approach when the company has not made a mistake, but the customer believes it has. It’s incredible how many organizations don’t know how, when, or even why to apologize and fail to train their employees on the value of uttering with sincerity the words, “I’m sorry.”

There are nine simple steps to a good business apology.

  1. Say, “I’m sorry.” In spite of what your lawyer may have told you, those should be the first words out of your mouth. (Note: If the incident could result in any kind of legal action or liability then delaying long enough to seek legal advice is prudent and necessary.)
  2. Be sincere. Your body language and tone of voice need to match your words. First, people believe what they see more than what they hear. A fake apology doesn’t fool anyone.
  3. React quickly. An apology that is several days old loses its credibility and effectiveness.       A lot of damage can be done if you wait too long.
  4. Drop the excuses. Take responsibility for whatever you said or did. You weaken your apology when you start piling on excuses such as “I was having a bad day” or “I just broke up with my girlfriend.” The last sentence actually came straight out of the mouth of a server in a restaurant. The customer was not impressed.
  5. Forget the blame game. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. It happened.
  6. Make amends. Do whatever you can to set things right. I recently sent one of my products to a customer. The item did not arrive on the day I promised, and I had an unhappy individual on my hands. I apologized and sent a replacement overnight. There was an additional cost to me, but I won over the customer who has since come back for additional products and services. The shipping company was at fault, but the customer didn’t care and it was up to me to take responsibility and correct the situation.
  7. Don’t get defensive and argumentative. Once you get your dander up, you are headed for trouble and will only make the situation worse. One of my favorite sayings is “Never argue with an idiot.  Those watching may not be able to tell the difference.”
  8. Listen without interrupting.  When customers get upset, they need to vent.   Often they require something to chew on and that may be you. Let them. You may learn something important from what they say. When you interrupt people, you are likely to miss hearing valuable information that could help you resolve the issue.
  9. Finally, don’t go overboard and over-apologize.  Say what you need to say and do what you need to do, then move on. You will only make matters worse with excessive apologies. As the saying goes, “When you find yourself in a hole, don’t keep digging.”

People can come up with any number of reasons not to apologize, but there are many more reasons for the business apology.  Number one is because it is the right thing to do. Plus, it is good customer service, which is good for business and that’s good for the bottom line.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com. Find out how her presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.

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