Knowing when not to apologise

We all know that when something goes wrong in our business and a client or customer has not received the service he or she expects, the first thing we should do is apologise. Generally if we pay attention to our business this will be a rare occurrence; it might never happen. Still, the principle must be do apologise and move on when something goes wrong.

If we say we are sorry for things which are beyond our control or indeed for non-existent failures, we can sow seeds in the minds of our clientele that something has gone wrong when actually it hasn’t. Then they might tell their friends about some supposed problem and we will suffer.

I was put in mind of this the other day when waiting at the check out desk of our local aquatics store. The assistant at the till kept saying to each customer “Sorry for the wait”, yet no one had to wait more than a minute as far as I could tell. I only even thought about the length of the wait because I heard her apologise to the customer in front of me. I had the same apology but there really was nothing to apologise for, we could watch the fish during our brief pause; yet she might have people think that the till service was really slow.

In my business I could apologise for a client’s high tax bill, but as I don’t “miss a trick” in claiming allowances and available reliefs, I just tell people what they owe. If I apologise they might think it is my fault they have to pay so much to the Government.

Next time you think about telling your customer you are sorry, consider whether you have anything to be sorry for. Otherwise just give the facts, keep the customer in the loop, and don’t apologise.

(C) Jon Stow 2010

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