When it comes to customer service, I firmly believe most people have good intentions and the majority of confrontations are the result of a misunderstanding.
Whether we intentionally or unintentionally set out to upset the customer, the outcome is still the same. Because 'if a customer believes they have a problem - they have a problem' and it’s our job to sort it out.
Saying “I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful phrases to use. It demonstrates real humility and actually increases our chance of calming the customer, as they feel valued and heard. If we miss the opportunity to apologise, we can lose a customer. Yet if we embrace it, we can gain a customer for life.
Apologising doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes, we see it as a sign of weakness. This can often boil down to our own pride and stubbornness. Yet, when we do apologise, it shows we are taking ownership and are committed to fixing the customer’s problem - helping to instil trust and rebuild the relationship.
If we apologise too quickly, customers may think we want to shut them up. And if we leave it too long, it can irritate them. Yet, when we make a mistake, we must take the lead and immediately say sorry.
Apologising for the sake of it will not work either. People can sense insincerity so it must be genuine. We need to 'put ourselves in the shoes of the customers' to understand how they are feeling. This helps to show real empathy and make a connection.
Letting people vent and tell their story is key to the apology, as we listen attentively to get all the details.
Just as importantly, we need to reassure the customer and let them know we have taken their comments on board and are willing to help.
If a customer is very upset, it can take quite a while for them to calm down or even hear us. So, we may need to apologise several times to be properly heard and make an impact.
There may be occasions when it’s unclear who is at fault or when 'sorry' is not quite the right thing to say. Finding alternative ways to acknowledge the customer is helpful. For example, “thanking a customer for waiting” can be very effective when dealing with numerous people whilst creating a positive environment.
There may be moments when we say “sorry” too many times and come across as having little confidence or being incapable. Likewise, if we use the same phrase repeatably, we can sound robotic and disconnected. So, using alternative phrases such as “I understand” or “I hear what you are saying” can show understanding.
We must never say “I am sorry you feel that way”, as it implies you don’t care and it’s their problem. And, apologising with excuses or conditions puts the blame on the other person, with phrases such as “I’m sorry you didn’t like your meal, but I did warn you it would be spicy”.
Every apology should acknowledge the customer and finish up with a commitment to fix the problem or change an action. We should personalise our apology by using their name and language and by keeping the focus on the solution rather than the problem. And finally, we need to remember to follow up and never make promises we can’t keep.