Own Your Errors And Apologize by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

In business, mistakes can and do happen. Even with the best automation and processes, errors will occasionally occur that cause a problem for a customer. It may be an overcharge on an invoice, a missed shipment, or an order that arrives that contains the wrong materials.

Regardless of the issue, owning the mistake and making an apology can go a long way to reducing the customer’s anger and salvaging the relationship. Trying to blame others or trying to minimize the issue results in further causing anger and frustration while simultaneously failing to address the concerns of the customer. Perhaps the worst-case scenario is blaming the customer for the mistake. When people are already upset, directing the blame at them, even in an offhanded comment or remark, and potentially end the relationship and cost the business.

Interesting Information on the Art of the Apology

In a study by the Carey School of Business, simply providing a refund, return, or other attempt to correct the situation without giving an apology only satisfied about 37% of customers. This number increases to 74% if the business acknowledges the mistake, apologizes, and also offers credit or otherwise correct the problem.

At the same time, customers who are dissatisfied are more likely to leave negative feedback, ratings, and reviews, which is a consideration for both brick-and-mortar and ecommerce businesses.

Making an apology is not just saying, “I’m sorry”. While this is part of the message, it is not the complete message the customer needs to hear. What is required is a sense of being heard and understood and that the inconvenience caused is not being dismissed by simply getting a refund, discount, or some other product or service.

An effective apology should include several elements:

  • Recognition of the customer’s issue – this is not just a simple “I realize you are angry the order is late” statement, but rather the ability to state to the customer, “I understand the late order resulted in problems filling your customer’s orders, and that this had a direct reflection on your business.” This requires the ability to empathize with the problems the error caused for the individual customer. Saying you are sorry for the issue after the customer recognizes that you understand is more effective.
  • Ask for a desired resolution – once the customer feels heard and understood, they are more likely to enter into discussions about what is needed to make the situation right. Some customers may want an explanation, others may want a discount or a refund, or some other issue. Work with the customer to resolve the issue to their satisfaction.
  • Clarify what is being done – make sure the customer is clear on what is agreed upon as the resolution of the problem or issue. Verify this before ending the conversation.

Follow up with the customer after the corrective action is taken whenever possible. This helps reinforce the responsibility you take in ensuring the problem is fully resolved, and the customer is satisfied.