Sorry Works! The Bottom-line Benefit of Apologizing to Customers

Confident Mature Businesswoman At The Office

One of the easiest and quickest ways to diffuse anger, create rapport, and regain goodwill with unhappy customers is to apologize. Offering an apology to a customer who experiences a problem should be a natural response from customer service providers. Yet, recent research reveals the startling fact that 50 percent of customers who voice a complaint never receive an apology from the organization.

Not only does an apology provide “soft” benefits such as creating calm, shaving minutes off of talk time, reducing stress on the employee, etc., but it can also translate into significant and measurable savings in decreasing lawsuits, settlement costs, and defense costs.

Doctors and hospitals are beginning to discover what savvy customer service professionals have always known: sorry works. A new program for doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators called Sorry Works encourages doctors and hospitals to apologize quickly when mishaps occur and to offer a fair settlement upfront to families and their attorneys. The Sorry Works program has resulted in a dramatic drop in lawsuits. The University of Michigan hospital recently implemented Sorry Works and reports that the number of pending cases has dropped and defense attorney fees decreased from $3 million to $1 million annually. Clearly, sorry does, indeed, work.

Does a 2 million dollar savings based solely on an apology sound too good to be true? Let me walk you through exactly why sorry indeed does work… here are the facts:

 Anger—not greed—is what drives liability claims.

Doug Wojcieszak, the spokesperson for Victims and Families United and author of “Sorry Works,” says that anger, not greed, is what drives most medical malpractice lawsuits. Further, Doug says, “Anger is generated when doctors and hospitals “clam up” and refuse to talk with the family after a mistake happens. Anger over lack of answers is what drives families to call an attorney to initiate a lawsuit.”

The same can be said for product liability claims. When customer service professionals take responsibility for blatant errors and offer up a sincere and unreserved apology, they quickly establish rapport and trust, and this results in problems being settled much more quickly—and more likely without litigation. An apology helps diffuse anger and reestablishes confidence, and this makes everyone happy. The fact is, satisfied customers aren’t inclined to sue.

 The practice of apologizing improves the organizational reputation.

Research has found that when an organization adopts a strategy like Sorry Works, it develops a reputation for honesty.

It is a positive practice to express concern for every problem— you’ll likely find that your trust and credibility will improve dramatically.

 Anger diffusion has been proven to reduce the cost of a settlement.

Michigan doctors using Sorry Works say families often settle for less than what they would receive in a lawsuit because they feel they are being treated fairly.

TARP, Inc., a 30-year-old firm that measures customer satisfaction and loyalty, has found that an approach to complaint handling, which emphasizes diffusion of anger, actually can decrease the cost of remedying customer problems. Rational customers who feel that a company is concerned about their issues will generally accept a lesser remedy than complainants who are angry.

The simple act of apologizing to a customer can go a long way in diffusing angry customers, restoring customer confidence, and regaining goodwill. Not only that, it will most often decrease the cost of remedying customer problems.

When dealing with unhappy customers, apologize up front and work to quickly correct the problem and you will find that you save your organization potentially thousands in repeat calls, escalated calls, customer defection, and even litigation.

Tip: I suggest employees apologize when the organization is at fault AND when the organization is NOT at fault. An apology when the organization is not a fault might sound like this: “Please accept my apology for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.

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