There is no place for a ‘but’ in an apology. Adding a but will demonstrate a lack of accountability even if your intentions are good. Instead, you are passing the blame on to someone or something else. This is true for any time you need to apologize to anyone, not just customers, but for this post we will focus on apologizing and taking accountability when your customer has been wronged.
Remember your customer often won’t care why they were wronged; they just want you to make it better. If you, or someone on your team, has screwed something up for a customer and they are still talking to you, that’s an opportunity. It means you can now take accountability and make things better… so don’t screw it up with a little three letter word.
Here is an example of how different apologies can make you feel:
You’re out to lunch and order a hamburger with no cheese. The server wrote it down correctly, but it came out with cheese melted on it. You flag down the server and say, “I believe I ordered this without cheese.” They have two ways to respond.
Response #1: “I wrote it down correctly BUT the chef must have screwed it up. Let me show her.” Do you really care who screwed up the burger? You are irritated and just want your burger how you ordered it.
Response #2: “I’m sorry. You told me no cheese. I will let the chef know and put in an order for a burger right away and I will let my manager know.” The server returns with your burger without cheese, the manager also apologizes and gives you a $20 gift card to the restaurant. You are now leaving the restaurant happy with your meal, the interaction you had with your server, and a reason to come back.
Along with no but(s) let’s look at some other critical steps to a successful apology:
- Immediately talk to someone (I.e. a manager, supervisor, etc.) about what happened and share your thoughts on a solution to help fix the problem.
- Immediately notify the customer with an apology, what happened and schedule a face to face meeting within one business day. Do this on a phone/video call so communication and tone is not lost over email and text.
- During the face to face meeting:
a. Apologize without a but
b. Explain your recommended solution along with your customer’s WIFM (What’s In It For Me)
c. Schedule a next meeting.
While this seems pretty simple, it can be very tough in the moment. As salespeople, we are the first line of offense and the first line of defense, just like a server at a restaurant. We are the first to get credit for successful sales, but we also need to be the first to take the blame when a mistake happens. As a customer, we might not care why there was cheese on our burger when we ordered it without cheese, just like our clients don’t care why we didn’t perform how they expected. They just want it corrected.
When your customer or anyone else in your life has been wronged always act quickly, take accountability, apologize without a but, and overdeliver on making it better for the client.