Do you know how to apologize? Anybody who's read my blog for awhile will know that I consider the art of apology to be an essential song in any business person's repertoire.
As I've said in past posts, it's not IF you'll make a mistake, it's how you handle it when you do...
I even described in my post about what not to put on your website that instead of just touting your accuracy, a real differentiator would be to say what you do when a mistake does occur. It's particularly engaging these days when we acknowledge that we *are* human, after all--especially in our immensely digital world.
But more on apologies...a post the other day by Seth Godin (he so consistently has gems on his blog, please subscribe if you don't already!) describes apologies that just don't cut it and built up to apologies that do work. He ranks them on a scale of 1-10, 10 being best:
- "You can always take your business elsewhere." (1): Thank you, I will, and so will all of my friends.
- "It's not our fault." (2): This is a non-apology, where you are not seeking to redress the issue, nor evincing any sort of sympathy for the injured.
- "We're sorry that you feel that way." (3): This is also a non-apology, which roughly translates into "It pisses us off that you feel that way. If you didn't feel that way, we would be happy." It also doesn't take any responsibility for the problem, and places all of it onto the injured party. Be careful of any apology that starts "I'm sorry that you..."
- "We're sorry if we did something wrong." (6): This is getting there, but doesn't really accept responsibility either. You are not acknowledging that you did anything wrong; you're still hoping that you haven't. You are offering an apology for appearances sake.
- "We're sorry that this occurred." (7): You are sorry, but as a matter of principle you're still trying to insist that it wasn't really your fault.
(oops, the last one was one way I suggested to apologize...I definitely like the next two better!!)
- "We're sorry that we caused this problem." or "We're sorry that we have let this happen." (9): This is a full apology, and is what the customer needs to hear. Frankly, it doesn't matter that it was really the post office's fault, and not yours; the customer doesn't care. Most people hearing this cannot help but respond with some sort of graciousness, such as "Well, all right then, these things happen. What are you going to do to fix it?" This is the target level that you want to hit for your customer service. But for the record, there is still one level to go. The complete apology is:
- "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." (10) In truth, this little speech goes on until the customer interrupts. And it is followed by a few more apologies as the conversation closes, as well.
As usual, Seth is on target. The only improvement that can be made to his advice is to replace all the "we" references to "I" -- as in "I'm sorry" is a lot more potent, and personal, than "we are sorry."
I was talking with my friend Ed Kless yesterday about my post the other day where I described how impressed I was with a Lt. Col. who took "full responsibility" for a problem with recruiters that report to him. Ed e-mailed me afterward saying apologies seemed to be big news yesterday:
From the front page of MSNBC
è http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17136318/ (Daytona apology)
è http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17166299/ (JetBlue apology)
è http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17160685/ (Hardaway apology)
Maybe, as a society, we're all ready to be more accountable and to accept others who show proper remorse when they goof up? I sure hope so!