If you screw up you should apologize. Period. Even if the wronged party cops a major attitude, maybe even gets in your face and points a finger or something equally aggressive, every smart business or organization bites their tongue and says, “We’re really sorry.” No matter what, when the wronged party is a customer, and it’s a company that’s made the error, a proper apology and any follow-up that occurs can actually create a win for both parties.
Apologizing is always a good idea in business markets because companies have, or want to have, long-standing relationships with their customers, says George Brown, CEO of strategy consulting firm Blue Canyon Partners, Inc. and author of CoDestiny: Overcome Your Growth Challenges by Helping Your Customers Overcome Theirs. But even simple apologies should have a well thought strategy that gives the customer a clear picture of the situation, all the while, conveying sincerity.
“The supplier should first communicate the apology. Second, communicate the information around how it happened, and what’s going to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Brown says. “The apology only makes someone feel better for a short period of time. Avoiding future problems is really the goal. The apology opens up a dialogue about what a supplier can do to do a better job in the future.”
Further, when something goes wrong it’s important to own up fast.
Top Reasons For a Company to Say ‘I’m Sorry’
- Prices Went Up: If a company has to increase prices (and let’s face it, most every company inevitably will) apologize to customers, but be sure to also highlight any new benefits geared to better meet their needs happening as a result of the increase. If there aren’t any additional perks to be had, try to illustrate the fact that any price increase isn’t as much as it could have been. While the the economy still kind of sucks, this is a point that will cure sympathy from most customers.
- We Sent You the Wrong Stuff: Apologize for the mishap and ship the correct item and offer accelerated shipping free of charge.
- We Overcharged You: If there is ever a mistake that is going to outrage a customer, it’s this one. This is the time and place for not only crediting the overcharged party’s account, but if you really want to hit a homerun, send along a few product samples. It’s a nice little way of really showing your apology is sincere, but also helps showcase what else your company does. Now, if you overcharge the second time around, well, just don’t do that OK?
“When something does go badly that’s going to affect your customer, the single most important piece of advice a firm can hear is, get that message out quickly. It’s going to become apparent sooner or later, and the earlier you get information to the customer, the more likely they are to deal with it, and the less significant the event will become that you have to apologize for,” Brown says.
How the apology is delivered is also important. Rafi Mohammed, founder of Culture of Profit LLC and author of The 1% Windfall says more organizations are increasingly training their customer service personnel not to be defensive when the wronged come calling. Instead, they must – ta da – listen, and even more important, actively respond.
“Often times when something’s happened to me I feel like it’s a shallow apology because it’s not backed up by any type of action,” he says. “It’s about listening, acknowledging, and then following up in a manner that ensures the customer knows the company cares about his business and is doing what it can to make it right.”
For example, Mohammed recounts a personal story about a recent flight he took on JetBlue, which is becoming well known for its customer service. On this short flight from New York to Boston the TV screens weren’t working. Sure, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but that’s one of the big reasons customers choose Jetblue.
“That’s one of the key attributes that Jetblue offers,” he says. “And I was surprised, but they came out and said, ‘The satellite’s not working today, so we’re going to make sure that each one of you gets a $15 credit on your Jetblue account,’ which is fairly generous, and sure enough, I saw it in my account.”
See? No TV for nearly a full hour, but apology delivered, restitution offered, and no hard feelings.
Still, Mohammed says companies also need to issue apologies in a way that doesn’t open the organization up to additional liability. “In those cases it could simply be, ‘We understand this, and we want to make it right.’ It’s an implicit apology not an explicit one,” he explains. “If questioned the company could simply say, our policy is to make sure that our customers are happy.”
And happy customers is what it’s all about.
Photo courtesy of butupa.