Apologizing to Customers

“Any good apology has three parts: 1. I’m sorry. 2. It’s my fault. 3. What can I do to make it right? Most people forget the third part.” – quotepedia.com

The subject, of apologizing to customers, needs special attention, since irrespective of the efforts a company makes to keep everything right, there will most certainly be times when things will go wrong. Mistakes and mess-ups are a given in the business world and the only way to empathize and show that your company is committed to working harder is by apologizing to customers. The company representatives who would be responsible for issuing the apology should have ample training in doing so and their skills of communication should be such that the apology remains effective and customers become willing to give the company another chance. The fact is that service lapses and other blunders are bound to happen – it is not ‘if’ they happen, it is about knowing that ‘when’ it happens, the company is effective in apologizing to customers.

Trying to hide behind excuses does not bode well for any company. Research reveals that a proper – speedy and sincere – apology would help to eliminate at least 90% of a customer’s ire. While customers might be more demanding, they do know and accept that there would be times when problems and errors will happen. They are more likely to forgive and extend cooperation if they receive a sincere apology and perceive a genuine effort to make it right. They would also be more willing to collaborate and work together with the company to find the best solutions to ensure that the same problems do not reoccur. While apologizing to customers, it is critical to remember that under no circumstance must the customer be told that it is their fault. The premise of customer service is to ensure that customers receive all the information regarding a product / service and they receive help when they need it. In any case, arguing or laying fault on an irate customer is sure to become an even bigger issue than the actual problem to be resolved.

Tied in with apologizing to customers is the fact that a company must then be extra-cautious to ensure that the same / similar error is not repeated. Customers are unlikely to trust the apology or the company if that happens. Problems will always be there even in a company that is customer-centric and strives for excellence in customer service. However, a company that offers a swift and effective apology has a better chance at continuing business with a customer than a company that ignores this important aspect. It is crucial to remember that when apologizing to customers, the apology would make the most impact when given by one of the senior leaders of the company. PR department apologies seem pretend and as part of the job of the department and would not carry as much weight. In fact, such an affected apology could probably anger the customers even more and garner a lot of negativity and poor publicity for the company.

When a company makes a mistake, the fear of the customer’s reaction and damage of market reputation would compound the situation and make it seem bigger and more problematic than it actually is. Rather than focusing on how the company feels, it would be crucial to show empathy and concern for the customer and immediately extend a heartfelt apology. It would be important to let them know that your company understands that problem and its effects on their business. Acknowledging and confirming the problem form the foundation of a sincere apology – it shows that your company is taking responsibility for the error, the resultant inconvenience and the remedy for the same.

The next step in apologizing to customers is that they are offered an explanation as to why the problem occurred – explanation, not excuse. This will tell the customer that the company understands why the error has caused a problem and will build confidence in the customer as to the integrity and honesty of the company. Tied in with the explanation is letting customers know what is being done to resolve the problem and some companies even provide names and contact details of the company representatives working on the problem. This adds a personal and human touch to the issue and allows customers to feel connected and comfortable in dealing with the company. Companies often forget a very crucial part while apologizing to customers – thanking them for their business and expressing hope that they would continue to do so despite the problems. Customers feel appreciated not just for the fact that their problem is acknowledged but also for the fact that their business is valued by the company.

Along with the pleasantries, it is important that swift action be taken to resolve the problem. Personalized attention must be given to a customer’s problem and if necessary monetary compensation may be offered. It would be appropriate to offer discounts, incentives and other such methods to make amends. The customer should be in a position to decide which option they choose. A handwritten note from the top person or at least from a senior person in the organization is a highly effective tool for apologizing to customers. This note would be even more effective if it solicited / invited a response from the customer to know whether they are satisfied with the solutions provided and what more can be done to make things better for them. There should also be some assurance that the company would make every effort to ensure that the customer would not experience the same problem again. This is known as closing the loop – which is quintessential to the process of apologizing to customers, as it shows them that your company is serious about keeping the relationship free from problems.

When apologizing to customers ensure that the apology is not rote and does not sound robotic. It must be personalized to the customer and the situation at hand. Personalizing the apology will help to heal the hurt sooner and help to build a connection with the customer. Humour and jokes must be avoided as these could trivialize the apology and give the customer the impression that the problem is not being taken seriously enough. The apology must be professional and give the customer the feeling that they are being treated fairly and with respect. There would be no point of the apology if it made the customer even more angry and disgruntled.

Statistics prove that dissatisfied customers are extremely likely to tell others – a large number of people – about the shoddy treatment and experience. This is in turn could alienate other existing customers and drive away potential ones to the company’s competitors. Customer churn is probably one of the worst aspects of a business and must not be treated lightly. Companies have to put in a lot of effort, time and money into attracting new customers and losing them after all the effort is a sheer waste of already limited resources. Any company requires a steady customer base that would ensure that the business grows and remains successful. A single disgruntled customer can wreak havoc and cause enough damage to affect negatively, the bottom line of the company – not something, which any company can afford given the rise of so many companies and a seemingly endless set of offerings.

Every company makes mistakes – irrespective of size, stature and length of time in business – but only those companies would remain successful that are able to apologize swiftly and effectively to their customers. It is obvious that customers have certain expectations when they do business with a company and when these expectations are not met, there is a sense of disillusionment that can turn to anger very easily if not managed. Many customers might not say anything but do what companies fear – move over to the competition. Others might complain and post negative comments over the highly visible platforms of social media, causing a lot of damage to a company’s reputation. The customers that decide to complain are actually giving the company a second chance to make amends – apologizing to customers is the best way of showing gratitude for this chance.

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