Sorry Shouldn’t Mean “Too Bad”

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The other day a buddy shared an experience he had with a company that sold him mulch for his yard. When the truck arrived, he asked the driver and his co-worker to put the mulch in the backyard. The driver said, “I’m sorry. Dropping the mulch off in the backyard is considered white-glove service. You needed to let us you wanted the mulch in the backyard when you ordered it.” In this case, sorry had a double meaning. Maybe the driver was saying he was sorry to apologize, and at the same time, he was also saying, “Too bad. Pay more money if you want the mulch delivered an extra 50 feet to the back of the house.”

I had a similar “I’m sorry” experience when I went to check out at a hotel. There was a $35 resort charge that I didn’t know about. I was there for three days, so that added up to over $100. I asked the front desk clerk what I got for that $100. She said, “Free internet, access to the workout room and a newspaper.” Hmm… most hotels I stay at don’t charge for any of these amenities. And, she added, almost ashamed, “I’m sorry. They should have informed you about the resort fee when you made your reservation. Once again, the word sorry was more of a “Too bad,” than an apology.

Lesson One: The words we use are important. And, if we use a phrase like “I’m sorry,” what comes after that needs to be part of the apology versus a “too bad” type of explanation. Even if it is “too bad,” the way you say it can include some empathy and caring that makes the customer know you feel their disappointment.

Lesson Two: The surprise resort fee wasn’t a big deal to pay. Yet, at the heart of the issue is that I felt the hotel was “nickel and diming” me. So, I asked the front-desk clerk to do me a favor. I told her that I wasn’t mad at her about the resort charge. It wasn’t her fault, and she was just the bearer of the bad news explanation. She immediately seemed to relax. Then, I told her what I did for a living, and asked if she would share how she felt about this situation. She told me that almost every day several guests complain about the resort fee, and she feels she has to defend it, and that makes her feel uncomfortable.

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When you know that your customers are regularly disappointed with a part of your process, figure out a way to eliminate that disappointment. In the case of the resort fee, it seems simple. It’s fine to charge it, so when the guest makes a reservation, if it’s online the fee should be made clear and be included on the confirmation receipt. If the reservation is made over the phone, inform the guest, and in the process, “sell” the benefits of that fee. For example, the reservationist could say, “Make sure you take advantage of the workout room. It’s more like a spa with the latest equipment. It’s part of your resort fee. You’ll love it.” Then, at check-in, go over the room rate and resort fee and “sell” it again. Make it a benefit, not an ugly surprise at the end of the trip. Isn’t that so much better than having to say, “I’m sorry!”

There are many ways we can turn negatives into positives. There are many words we can use to show our customers we care. The powerful words, “I’m sorry,” shouldn’t be abused. They shouldn’t be part of a too bad explanation. They should convey empathy, care and concern. And, if you have to utter those two powerful words more often than you should, figure out why, and do something about it!

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