Carol Roth Blog
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.
 

How Not to Apologize

 

ApologizingYou messed up. It happens to the best of us. And now your business needs to apologize to a customer, a supplier, or even the public. So here is something you probably never realized:

Your apology is often more important than the actual transgression itself.

To err is human, but to give a stilted, insincere apology means possibly being branded forever as a conceited ass instead of a remorseful corporate citizen. And you only get one chance to do it. Here are some ways to avoid the deadly apology:

Don’t put it on them. The most infuriating phrase in all apology-dom? “We are sorry you felt this way.” Let’s translate this one into plain English: We are clueless about what we could have possibly done wrong, but we would be more than happy to question *your* state of mind. Don’t go there.

Lose the platitudes. The most common – and stupid – phrase in most business apologies? “At Our Precious Company, we strive to do exactly the opposite of what you just told us we did.”

For example, one major food company brilliantly added a new ingredient that I have a food allergy to. I and others posted our concerns on the product’s Facebook fan page. Their response? Something to the effect of “we try to make our products available to as many consumers as possible.” Um, no you didn’t. A good test is to try having a six-year-old caught in the cookie jar say the same thing: “Mother, I strive to only eat cookies at proper times and maintain my dental health, so I appreciate your feedback.”

Don’t defend yourself. No one cares about your glorious past. So don’t say things like, “Normally our Ferris wheels run without incident.” I’ll give you a small mulligan on this one, but only if you put it in future tense (“In the future, we will do everything we can to make sure our Ferris wheels run without incident, instead of stranding people for three hours like we did last week.”)

Own it. This is the most important part of apologizing to people. Repeat after me: “We messed up. We shouldn’t have done it. We apologize. And here is what we are going to do to make things right.”

Here is one of the more fascinating sidelights of the wave of corporate scandals of the past few years: compare the prison sentences of people who completely owned up to what happened, versus those who made excuses or trumpeted their innocence. I believe there are literally people spending years in jail for the lack of knowing how to show genuine remorse.

If you find the mechanics of how to apologize as fascinating as I do – including a structured process for how to recover from even very damaging situations – pick up a book entitled Effective Apology by John Kador. It’s twenty bucks or so well spent. In the meantime, learn to use apologies as a tool to make things better with people, not worse.

What do you think? Does this make sense? Do you have other techniques you use? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Article written by
Rich Gallagher is a former customer service executive and practicing therapist who heads the Point of Contact Group. His books include two #1 customer service bestsellers, “What to Say to a Porcupine” and ”The Customer Service Survival Kit: What to Say to Defuse Your Worst Customer Situations,” both released by AMACOM. He has taught over 30,000 people what to say in their worst customer and workplace situations.
17 comments
shahrukh12
shahrukh12

You screwed up. It happens  consultant to the best of us. And now your company needs to say sorry to a person, a provider, or even people. So here is something you probably never realized:

umarsiraj124
umarsiraj124

Ha! I merely managed a company that all messed-up listed below are the results, and so they mentioned the items your post claims to not do all a knockout post. Consequently humourous and normal. Cheers!


shahrukh12
shahrukh12

Ha! I basically managed a company that all screwed up here are the results, plus they mentioned those factors your content says not to do all bunk beds with storage. Therefore humourous and frequent. Thanks!

umarsiraj124
umarsiraj124

Ha! I simply handled a business that all messed up here are the findings, plus they stated the things your article says not to do all. Therefore humourous and regular. Thanks!


umarsiraj124
umarsiraj124

Rich, all of your information and I concur with apology. I'd prefer to include one-point for small companies Full Report. If your mistake happens along with a customer consumer gripes to staff,

umarsiraj124
umarsiraj124

All of your details and I agree on apology. I'd prefer to include one-point for small businesses. If your error happens along with a customer/consumer complains to a worker such a good point, the employee must advise the company operator...and also the company owner must convey the apology (properly, obviously).


umarsiraj124
umarsiraj124

He confronted Doc Daneeka having a significantly less than diplomatic, almost unlimited series of expletives Find Out More. The individual doctor informed to his person who upon asking to be delivered home he'd been evaluated very pleased and so, have been required in the future time for touring duties - Catch 22.


umarsiraj124
umarsiraj124

Doc Daneeka was confronted by him having a significantly less than diplomatic unlimited series of expletives. The individual doctor informed to his person who upon asking to be delivered home he'd been evaluated very pleased and so film making .have been required in the future to touring job returning.


TheRelationshipInsider
TheRelationshipInsider

Rich, I agree with all your points on apology.  I would like to add one point for small business owners. If a mistake occurs and a client/customer complains to an employee, the employee should inform the business owner...and the business owner should express the apology (correctly, of course).  It makes a difference "who" is expressing the apology, too.  It sends a genuine message to the customer/client that you (the business/business owner) really care about making them happy and satisfied.

writeahead
writeahead

Ha! I just dealt with a company that messed up, and they said all of the things your article says not to do. So timely and humourous. Thank you!

marylynn3
marylynn3

Rich,

 

This is such an important topic! It reminded me of a hotel chain that messed up our reservation. Someone reached out to us to learn more about the situation, then blew off our scheduled phone call, and never followed up. As you can imagine, we will never book with them again. Not so much over the messed up reservation, but how they handled the "apology". 

 

I realize people are busy, but you can't win in today's world if you don't treat people like you care.

 

Thanks for the work YOU do, Rich, to help us all experience better customer service!

 

Mary-Lynn

PointA_PointB
PointA_PointB

This is brilliant, Rich! So many companies piss off their customers when they should be trying to help. I was laughing as I read this. Thank you so much for calling out these #worstpractice responses. 

 
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