When “sorry” shouldn’t be the hardest word

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Recently, a friend of mine wasn’t happy due to a negative experience with a catering company she was going to use for a large family party. Basically, she had agreed a price two weeks ago, noted it down (she’s a lawyer so records everything), yet when they confirmed back by email, it showed they had included some vegetarian meals which she didn’t order. This made the quote more expensive.

She politely dropped them a return email pointing out the previously agreed price and that she didn’t need vegetarian meals. However, they didn’t apologise for the error, nor did they acknowledge their mistake. Not a good experience, hence she cancelled and sorted the food with a different company, an order lost and an unhappy customer purely down to two simple things; acknowledging their error and saying sorry. By the way the party was a success.

How often have you experienced something like this? It happens, we’re only human after all. Yet the differentiator between a good and great customer experience is how the situation is recovered. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the statistic that if a customer is disgruntled they tell at least 10 people of their bad experience, often more now due to the internet and social media.

So how can you turn things around when mistakes are made and turn an unhappy customer into a loyal one?

Lessons for frontline sales and customer service teams

Respect your customers
Don’t proportion blame, it doesn’t solve the issue and can make things worse, so ensure you have an adult to adult conversation.
Show the customer that you have listened to what they have said by summarising or repeating back the facts to clarify the issue.

Say “sorry” like you mean it
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. If it is your fault, say so.
Use your tone of voice and body language to show empathy and that you understand the customer is not happy.
Advise the customer of how you will rectify the situation and by when.

Deliver on your promises
Once you have agreed with them what will happen, ensure they are happy with the solution and timescales; this builds trust and shows you’re taking ownership of sorting it out for them.

Keep your customers informed
Any delays mean you need to contact them and give them an update even if there is little to report back. It shows you’re on the case, they have not been forgotten about and their issue is being dealt with.

There is little doubt that managing difficult customer situations can be challenging. However, with good training supported by workplace coaching, your frontline teams will be in a better position to know that “sorry” needn’t be the hardest word to say.

If you would like to talk about handling complaints effectively in your business, please do get in touch. We would love to hear from you.


Further information: -
“Why effective complaint handling matters. Delivering outstanding customer service” eBook

Five ways to handle complaints effectively

This post was written by

Mark BW McDermott

Account Director

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