NYC 62: 4.10.13 Education – I’m SORRY!


Why is that so hard to say? Sam Sklar again sent me words of wisdom from Harvey Mackay who relates the story of the “Bedbug Letter” where the president of a hotel company responded to an angry letter from a guest about the bedbugs that attacked him during a recent stay. The President’s letter said “I can assure you that such an event has never occurred before in our hotel and I promise you it will never happen again.” Well, to make matters worse, the guest’s original letter was also enclosed with a big note at the top, “send this idiot the bedbug letter”.

But that wasn’t the only mistake, right?

Harvey says that remedial customer service may start with an apology, but never, ever mess up an apology. A proper apology is just the start but it doesn’t solve the problem….and the cost of the fix is always greater than doing it right in the first place.

First of all, everybody makes mistakes. What happens next is what demonstrates true regret. The hotel president surely lost that client forever, but that bad experience will be told to many people, in fact, with today’s social media… would go viral. Bad experiences are related 9 times more than good ones. Even sincere apologies may have limited effect, but if it helps a little, it is worth the effort. 

How about this insincere one you often hear from politicians  “If I offended anyone, I apologize” or “my words were taken out of context” or “I didn’t realize my actions would cause such a stir” all pretty pathetic attempts at sounding sorry, but really sound more like “I’m sorry I got caught.”

Train your brain to think before you speak, act or tweet. An apology is just the beginning, get it right and don’t disappoint a second time. In a business setting apologies are often related to poor service, defective products or missed deadlines. Apologies must go beyond words. 

First, admit your mistake, don’t gloss over the effect it had on your customer, get to the point and own the situation.  Don’t blame someone else.

Next, offer a solution that will demonstrate your sincere desire to make things right, even if the customer had some responsibility. The cost of fixing the mistake is much lower than trying to repair a reputation after you’ve been panned on Facebook, Twitter or Angie’s List.

Third, express your intention to make sure it never happens again. Ask the customer to make suggestions and thank them for their feedback. Learn from the experience and train your staff in dealing with these situations.

Harvey offers an ideal apology “We are so sorry for messing up what could be our only opportunity to serve you. Your disappointment in us is completely justified. We will fix this problem immediately and will not consider this case closed until you are completely satisfied. Here is the name and number of the person you can contact 24 hours a day to question, complain or check on the progress of your situation.” And make sure you keep your word.

Finally, Harvey Mackay says, “Saying you’re sorry and showing you’re sorry are not the same thing.”

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