Acknowledgement of fault is a powerful act; it tells the customer “You are right, I see your perspective, and I understand it.” It recognizes a shared reality with the customer and is the opposite of the defensiveness approach we can fall into.
It also helps that an effective apology costs a lot less than a refund or discount on service.
- Really be sorry
If you aren’t genuinely sorry for at least some part of the problem, then don’t apologise. Instead, ask questions and listen again to make sure you truly understand the situation. Upset customers can be aggressive or extreme, sometimes because they don’t think anyone is really listening, and customers can tell when you’re saying sorry without comprehending why.
- Check in with yourself
Before you step into a customer complaint situation, check in with yourself to understand how you are feeling at that moment. Is now really a good time to deal with a situation or can you buy yourself some time to mentally prepare? If time is not on your side let yourself feel your emotion and write it down. This small act will give you the mental space to remain calm and positive by acknowledging the state you are in .
- Validate your customer’s feelings
You don’t have to agree with everything a customer has said, but they do need to know that you have heard them and that you acknowledge how they feel.
“I know it has been really frustrating for you to be held up like this when you just want to get your hair done.”
Investigate reflective listening; it’s a valuable skill at work and at home.
- Admit to your mistakes
Whether it was your personal mistake, or the mistake of the company explicitly admit to it, again trying to reflect the way your customer has described the problem. It should be a genuine and specific admission.
“You are absolutely right; we should have made that clearer much earlier on in the service” or “I can see now that we didn’t deliver a proper consultation, and that’s totally our fault.”
The sort of grudging “Well, I think it was really your fault, you should have said, but I guess the customer is always right” apology that some people tend to give is worse than none at all.
- Explain what you’ll do differently
Explain clearly what you or the company will do differently next time to avoid this happening again. This is your chance to show a commitment to improvement and to start rebuilding customer confidence.
There are a few things that you should not include in an apology:
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep (e.g., don’t say “This will never happen again” if you can’t 100% control that)
- Don’t trivialise or ignore the customer’s feelings (e.g., “Our other customers don’t have any problem with this.”)
- Don’t defend yourself by blaming someone else or minimising the problem
- Don’t over-apologise (the word “sorry” will lose all meaning if you say it too often)