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When We Owe a Customer an Apology: Seventy-seven Percent is Worth the Effort!

When We Owe a Customer an ApologyBest Practices

Sometimes we mess up. Many, if not most of us have had to help an employee navigate the art of apologizing to a customer. It’s not fun. It’s even less fun when we really haven’t done much wrong, but the customer simply isn’t happy.

How we deal with it can make all the difference in the world.

Even when we aren’t necessarily to blame, it’s a good idea to avoid things like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’. It doesn’t seem like a genuine apology because it’s pointing attention at the way the customer feels. We don’t actually know how he feels.

Herein lies where actively listening carries a lot of weight, too. I know it can be difficult, especially when the customer is upset. Yet, it’s amazing to know that sometimes she just wants to be heard (while you are fixing the problem, of course). Some really easy ways to let the customer know we’re listening include comments such as ‘I can imagine how frustrating this must be for you’ or ‘I do understand’.

Paraphrasing is especially helpful in times like this, too. It shows we’re listening and trying to make sure we’ve heard them correctly. Plus, it gives us the chance to make sure we really did hear him correctly. Ending the paraphrased comment with ‘because of [this error]’ can really drive things home. It can be exceptionally powerful when a customer is mad.

The goal is to take responsibility. Not necessarily responsibility for your actions or the actions of your employee, but the actions of the company in general. It demonstrates that we take this situation seriously.

Tips to Avoid

  • There is a fine line between making excuses and trying to explain the situation. Nobody wants to hear excuses, especially when we’re a frustrated customer
  • It’s easy to want to blame someone else, but the greatest influence we carry as a leader is when we accept responsibility
  • Take care of as much of the problem as possible in one sitting. An upset customer doesn’t want to be handed off to another department or told that ‘we’ll look into it and get back to you’. We’re the leader and we should take care of it. If we were called in by one of our employees, there is no reason the customer needs to be passed off to someone else… again

Remember to thank the customer for giving us the chance to take corrective action. Losing a customer can be expensive when we consider the fact that 91% of displeased customers will not do business with us again. However, between 70-77% of unhappy customers will do business with us again if we make things right. What’s even better news is that ratio rises to 96% when we’ve acted quickly (US Office of Consumer Affairs, 2015).

Furthermore, when we have made a mistake with a customer, acted quickly, expressed sincere empathy, and left the customer feeling good about how things were handled, they will actually promote our company. We all know the power of word-of-mouth. This is a great example.

The ticket is to be sincere.