The Right Way to Apologize to a Customer

6124423549_eac34762be_nThe world is becoming a place where apologies are harder to deliver but more important than ever. Business owners, afraid of opening themselves up to a lawsuit, are reluctant to acknowledge wrongdoing but in the process, have made their customers feel less valued.

It’s time to rid yourself of the fear of litigation. Of course, if you are concerned about legal action, speak to an attorney before speaking to the affected party but in most cases, there’s no reason not to say you’re sorry when the situation warrants. (And even sometimes when it doesn’t.)

An apology serves a number of healthy purposes:

  • It takes the energy out of conflicts. How can somebody continue to be mad if you acknowledge that they are right?
  • It separates the past from the future. The incident is in the past but the solution allows for moving forward into the future.
  • It removes the defensive posture. When a person isn’t defensive, they’re more likely to listen.

Avoid the insincere apology

You’re in business because you care about your customers. For that reason, you want to see them happy with their experiences with your business. This is why an apology is so important.

An insincere or empty apology, however, can do more harm than good. Avoid saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “You have to take some responsibility in this too,” and any other wording that attempts to focus some part of the blame on the customer.

How to Apologize Correctly

1) Apologies should be face to face. Apologies are personal. They don’t work well if sent by email or text message. If it can’t take place in person, Skype, Face time, or GoToMeeting are viable alternatives. If those aren’t available, make a phone call.

2) Just apologize. Don’t explain-. When somebody tells you that they are sorry and follows it up with a long explanation of why the incident happened, you probably hear it as an excuse. You likely hear the excuse or reason as the person saying, “I’m sorry but here’s why it’s not all my fault.”

Instead, just apologize and later offer to discuss what happened only after the apology is accepted. Let them know that discussing the issue isn’t necessary but it may help to keep it from happening again.

3) Take more of the blame than you should. In most conflicts, each side shares a significant portion of the blame but as the business owner who would like to see the customer come back, you need to shoulder most of the blame regardless of who is right. Remember that this isn’t a relationship of equals. There’s likely enough competition in your space that customers have other options.

4) Business is no place for feelings. Customers will sometimes be mean. They will make attacks personal, and your first response will be to fight back. There are some instances where losing their business is best but for all of the others, practice not taking peoples’ words personally. Listen to them, and offer a sincere apology regardless of the wording they use.

Remember that being right, stating your case, and defending your personal honor to somebody who is already upset doesn’t result in repeat business. Putting up an emotional wall when they yell, saying you’re sorry, and asking for another chance is what makes money.

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