Eight Etiquette Tips for an Effective Business Apology

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In the past few weeks we have been inundated with stories about the outrageous behavior of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, Kanye West at the VMA’s and Joe Wilson during a joint session of Congress. Just when we thought things were dying down, attention turned to their apologies, the manner, the style and the number of them. If anything, all three public figures were shining examples of how not to apologize.

There is an art to the apology. As my friend, Jerry Gitchel says, “I’ve found that a good apology can often strengthen a business relationship.” When done correctly, an apology can enhance your business and create customer loyalty; still it’s amazing how many people don’t know how or when to apologize

There are eight steps to a good apology. Serena, Kanye and Joe take note.

#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.

#2. Be sincere. Your body language and tone of voice need to match your words. People believe what they see over what they hear. Look, sound and feel genuinely sorry.

#3. React quickly. An apology that is several days old loses its credibility and effectiveness.

#4. Drop the excuses. Take responsibility for whatever you said or did. You weaken your apology when you start piling on excuses like Serena, who in apology number two said that “In the heat of battle, I let my passion and emotion get the better of me and as a result handled the situation poorly.”  That was a lame attempt at an excuse and not a hint of “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”

#5. Make amends. Do whatever you can do 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. To set things right, I apologized and offered to send a replacement by overnight delivery. There was a significant cost to me, but I won over a customer who will hopefully come back to me for additional products or services.

#6. Don’t get defensive. 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.”

#7. 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 vent. You may learn something important from what they say.

#8. Finally, don’t go overboard and over-apologize. Make your first apology your last. Say what you need to say and do what you need to do to make things right, then move on. You will only make things seem worse by apologizing over and over again.

People can come up with any number of reasons not to apologize, but there are just as many for saying “I’m sorry.” Number one on that list is because it is the right thing to do. Not only that, it is good for business.

professional speaker

Photo from Savannah magazine

Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at lydia@lydiaramsey.com or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website, lydiaramsey.com.

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