The authors of Rework, a book about how to start a new business in today’s Web environment, have an excellent chapter on how to say you are sorry. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanson are the founders of a web based business called 37Signals. As they point out, there is really no GOOD way to say you are sorry but there are many terrible ways.

Four Steps to Say You are Sorry

1. A good apology accepts responsibility without conditional statements. The buck stops here.

2. It provides details about what happened.

3. It describes what you are doing to prevent it from happening again.

4. It also explains what you are doing to make things right.

Five Soft Skills

There are some soft skills they also refer to which are equally important.

1. Use an appropriate language and tone with the customer. We apologize sounds very formal. I apologize is more personal. I am so sorry may be even better.

2. Acknowledge the impact of the problem. Don’t refer to the problem as an inconvenience. Maybe their livelihood or safety and well being is impacted. Maybe your problem has created a crisis for them or cost them dearly. Acknowledge the severity of the impact.

3. Don’t use words like ‘inconvenience this “may” have caused’. The word ‘may’ is what the authors call a classic non-apology apology move. It implies that this might not have impacted you. I believe Toyota used this phrase in its communications with the public. My impression was.. this issue may not have impacted me YET  but watch out!

4. Ask yourself if you were the recipient of the apology, how would you react to the words of apology? How would you take it?

5. Build Trust. You will have a much harder time apologizing if you have not  developed trust with your stakeholders in the past. If you have trust built, and have some rapport with customers, they will go easier on you than if they do not.

How your customers react to your apology is impacted no only by what you say and do  as part of apologizing  but also based on what you have done before things went wrong to establish rapport, trust and  a relationship with your customer.

What techniques do you teach to your front line staff and senior managers, when dealing with customer complaints?


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

3 Responses to “Customer Satisfaction Tip: Four Steps to say You are Sorry”

  1. Frank Brinkman Says:

    What a wonderful post! These rules work. A word to the wise to those who use these guidelines. BE SINCERE! False apologies will insult the Client and will result in even worse relationship issues.

  2. Adele Says:

    Frank, thanks for the comment. I totally agree. Lack of sincerity will be quickly found out and will back fire, big time.

  3. Will Customers Forgive Mistakes? Temkin Forgiveness Ratings | Customer Satisfaction and Reputation Management Says:

    […] 1. Apologize using best practices. See Customer Satisfaction Tip: Four Steps to say You are Sorry […]

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