My guess is it’s going to happen one day. You’re going to look at something that’s already been sent out to your client’s extensive mailing list and realise you spelled his latest product wrong. You’re going to miss a really important deadline because you had to drop everything and pick up a sick child/relative. You’re going to realise that you  added up some numbers wrong that your client was relying on to make an important decision. You’re going to get that terrible sinking feeling. You’re going to have to say sorry… but do you know how and still maintain a good client relationship?

I am often amazed, and a bit saddened, at the standard of apologies received in and from businesses. It seems the norm to try and cover things up, blame someone or something else or for the person you’re speaking with to accept no responsibility. Have you ever been the angry consumer that’s not received a service or product of an expected standard? What did you really want whoever you’re dealing with to do about it? I expect it was just for them to say. “I’m sorry this happened to you, I don’t know why it happened but I’m going to try and find out and tell you what we can do”

In my early career I worked for a rather large public sector organisation. As I moved up the scale I had to go on a management training day. There I was told that if I ever had to deal with a complaint I should say “I’m sorry you feel that way” This maddened me at the time and still does when I hear it being said by others as it’s the biggest non-apology that could be made. If someone says this to a customer what they’re really saying is “You obviously have a big problem with something, but I’m not going to accept it was anything to do with me or my company policies, I’ll just say a sentence with sorry in and you won’t notice”. Some companies hope you won’t notice their mistakes at all – like a large discount deal company that recently changed the bargain offered, after I purchased it, and then sent me an email to “clarify the offer”.  Companies that treat their customers as stupid mustn’t be too worried about keeping them.

So how should we really say sorry?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

1. Be honest and admit that you or your company made a mistake then work with your customer to put things right. Apologise, saying something like; “I am sorry that the service was not satisfactory” or “I apologise and would like to help you rectify the situation.” Simple and sincere statements will help the customer know that you recognise the mistake and understand the effect it had on them.

2. Use active listening skills. Listen to the customer’s complaint and repeat important issues back to them so that you know you have the full story right and they know you’ve taken the issue on board.

3. Let your customer know that you acknowledge their frustration. Say “I am sorry that we didn’t get things right, what can I do to help rectify the situation?”. Your customer will know that you are serious about helping them and that you want to keep the business relationship.

4. Fix whatever the problem is and offer another apology when you have fixed it. Apologising at both the beginning and the end of the issue helps the customer to know that their satisfaction is important to you and that you value their business.

Do you have any examples of good or bad apologies? Do share them below.

We all hope we won’t need to apologise – but always do it before this happens to you!