Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - October 31, 2018


Let’s face it: sooner or later every one of us is going to make a mistake that annoys, even angers, a customer. We may create an inconvenience, or we may do something that has a more serious impact on the customer, but it is going to happen.

So what do we do with that angry customer? We figure out where we went wrong (and how to prevent its recurrence), we admit to the customer that we created a problem, and then we trot out that time-worn phrase:

“I’m sorry.”

And upon hearing that, the customer immediately calms down, confesses a deep appreciation of you and your institution, and skips merrily out the door, right?

Not bloody likely. Most of us are so used to getting apologies for bad service from so many people and businesses that it doesn’t mean anything anymore … unless you back up your words with deeds that prove you really mean it.

Let me share my own experience. During a recent training trip, I had a room reservation at a hotel I frequently use near a regular client. I specified some linen restrictions due to an allergy, and a few hours before I checked in I called the hotel just to make sure they had set aside the appropriate room for me.

When I got there, the room wasn't available. After some lively questioning from me,they admitted that they had given my room to someone else. It was already late in the day, but I had to wait for them to prepare another room. I wasn’t happy and let them know it, and that’s when the ritual occurred: the manager trotted out and told me how sorry he was.

How sorry was he? In my book, not very. The apology cost him nothing but a little hot air. He didn’t reduce my rate, or give me a free meal at the restaurant, or do anything that cost him anything more than the time it took to make his speech. Time to find another hotel.

If you stop at “I’m sorry,” why would your customer put much stock in your apology? What could you do to back up your words? Reduce or waive a fee? Expedite a decision? What about keeping some gift cards on hand to help make amends? Being creative will help you stand out from your rivals and from all the other apologies your customers are getting on multiple fronts.

The only thing less meaningful than a words-only apology is that stupid message, when you are on hold, that tells you how much they value you as a customer. If you can’t back up “I’m sorry” with action that costs you something, don’t expect the customer you have inconvenienced to accept your apology, no matter how sincerely delivered.