Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Customer Apologies and Forgiveness

Posted by Becky Carroll on February 6, 2007

sorry-bear.jpgAs I mentioned in one of my recent posts, the words we use with customers do make a difference.  This is never truer than when an apology is in order!  When a customer is upset, it is easy to try and place the blame somewhere else.  However, the customer isn’t really interested in who is to blame.  The customer just wants us to right the wrong so they can go about their business.

Seth Godin has a great post about how to apologize to a customer.   In it, he walks through a scale of “so-so” apologies to a very good apology to a “best practice” apology.  The last one is as follows:

“We’re so sorry that we caused this problem; we are really distressed over this. Please know that we take this very seriously. This is a huge oversight on our part. I will immediately notify my supervisor, and we will review our procedures to ensure that this cannot happen again. In the meantime, that is no consolation to you for our lack of service! What can we do to regain your trust? We will be sending you a little surprise as a token of our appreciation of having you as a customer.”

This apology is great in that it takes responsibility for the mistake, acknowledges a need for a change in the future, and looks to compensate the customer in some way (this need not be monetary).  Note, this type of apology only works if the company is sincere.  In addition, the company needs to actually follow-through on sending the surprise token of appreciation.  Good intentions are not enough, especially once customer expectations have been set!  The follow-through may turn out to be difficult if the company culture (and accompanying metrics) do not reward customer-focused behaviors.

During our recent visit to Disneyland, my oldest son had fruit salad for lunch (yes, you heard that right!) at one of their counter-service restaurants.  Part way through, he discovered some of the grapes were moldy (eew!).  I walked with him as we took it back to the cashier where we had purchased it.  Although lines were long, she immediately recognized him and brought him over to the manager.  His apology sounded very much like the one listed in Seth’s blog above.

“I am so sorry this happened to you.  Are you all right?  Let me check the date on this salad here; hmm, it looks OK.  I will go back and make sure the other fruit salads are fresh.  Again, I am so sorry this happened to you.    I am sure this wasn’t very much fun!  What can I do for you?  Would you like another salad, or would you prefer a refund?”

We ended up taking the refund, as my son had lost his appetite by then.  The manager didn’t offer to send a surprise to us, but that was fine.  It was a great lesson for my son on how to run a business and take care of customers.

The flip side of the coin is forgiveness.   Drew McLellan writes about the grace we need when our customers/clients wrong us.  Drew defines this as offering support and forgiveness, whether they deserve it or not.  I completely agree, Drew! 

We don’t always know the situation that a person is living in on any given day.  What may look like a major issue to us may in fact be merely an oversight.  When we model grace and forgiveness to our customers, we show them not only our compassionate side, but we also show them they can trust us to do what is right.  And hopefully, if we ever make a mistake against them, they will forgive us in turn.

I would also like to challenge the Customers Rock! community to think about grace when having a bad customer service experience.  It may be the customer service rep is having a bad day.  It may be poor company policies or short-sighted metrics that force a rep to try and get through as many transactions as possible. 

Regardless, I always find that a smile (yes, you can even hear a smile over the phone!)  and a little grace goes a long way.

(Stockxpert.com photo uploaded by Foxie)

6 Responses to “Customer Apologies and Forgiveness”

  1. […] could also have used the recent Customers Rock! blog entry where he says: This apology is great in that it takes responsibility for the mistake, […]

  2. I love this. And it is so amazingly lacking in so much of the world. People think that they are doing you a favor for the service you are paying for…!

  3. Thanks for chiming in, Maryam. I have lived in Europe and found it lacking there as well. However, if each of us makes it better on our own, perhaps it will spread!

    And thanks for your visit, all the way from Marrakesh!

  4. An interesting conversation, thanks for extending it!

    One of the oddest things to me is that so many companies completely miss the boat when it comes to taking good care of their customers. We chase them, woo them, spend incredible amounts of money to get them.

    And then we treat them like we don’t care if we have their business.

    It makes no sense to me at all. But it also creates a great opportunity for those who do get it.

    Drew

  5. Hi Drew,

    Thanks for adding in to the conversation over here! I agree, it is strange that companies work so hard to acquire customers but don’t take the care they should to keep customers. I find this especially true for growing businesses. They are frantically working to stay on top of things only to find they are leaking customers out the bottom.

    It is a huge competitive advantage for those who care and show it.

    Thanks again for taking a minute on this topic, Drew! 🙂

  6. […] then find someone who can.  Customer trust is often shaken by even small mistakes.  Admit them, apologize, and do what’s right for the customer.  Building strong relationships will help your […]

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