When to Apologize to Customers and How to Do It

When to Apologize to Customers and How to Do It

 

This morning I delivered a workshop in Philadelphia where I introduced my conciliatory customer recovery strategy to a client. The sole purpose of my customer recovery strategy is to completely restore customer confidence and regain goodwill whenever a customer feels wronged. The keystone of my conciliatory strategy is to apologize to customers.

When I explained the “Apologize for the problem” step, a participant in the seminar quickly piped up and said, “I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”  Another person agreed, saying “An apology admits fault…why would we want to do that?”

The expressions of these two participants are common and I hear this throughout the country in nearly every seminar I deliver. So, let’s look at their sentiments.

I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”

Good point. Almost never is the problem the customer service professional is responding to their fault. So why would they need to apologize personally for the problem? I can think of several reasons.

  • It’s not about you personally. Of course it’s not your fault. But you are representing your company and you have a responsibility to actively work to regain customer goodwill. A sincere and unreserved apology conveys that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated. This is what it’s about…not you personally.
  • Recent research by Sorry Works has found a link between a heartfelt apology from doctors and a drastic reduction in lawsuits and attorney fees. The University of Michigan hospital recently implemented the Sorry Works program and they report that the number of pending cases has dropped and defense attorney fees decreased from $3 million to $1 million annually. (Wojcieszak, 2008) (Sorry Works encourages doctors and hospitals to apologize quickly when mishaps occur and offer a fair settlement upfront to families and their attorneys.)
  • Apologizing can increase customer satisfaction. Research by TARP has shown that when an apology is perceived as genuine, customer satisfaction increases 10 – 15%.
  • Real companies are getting real results. The Toro Company (lawn mower) has made an apology a part of their product integrity policy and as result they have reduced legal costs per claim by 78%. (Fleming & Asplund, 2007)
  • A genuine apology makes customers feel emotionally connected to the company. Gallup research has shown that a genuine apology can actually strengthen a customer’s emotional bond to a company, leaving him or her more emotionally connected than customers who never experienced a problem. (Fleming & Asplund, 2007)

“An apology admits fault…why would we want to do that?”

Actually, an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault. And it’s not even about placing blame.

The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill.

I believe in apologizing to the customer whether the problem they experienced was a result of an act of nature, a third party, or even the customer. It goes without saying that I believe that we must apologize when the problem is the fault of the company. 

Here’s how you can apologize when the problem is not the company’s fault:

  • “I’m sorry that you had to make this call today.”
  • “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.”
  • “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”
  • “I’m sorry, I feel awful about your problem.”

Several years ago I experienced a cancelled flight due to severe weather and ended up having to spend the night in the DFW airport. About a week after my mind-boggling stay in the DFW airport, I got a letter in the mail from the airline that included this apology.

“Although we will never compromise safety for the sake of on-time performance, we sincerely apologize that your travel plans were disrupted.”

Notice that none of these apologies admit fault or pass blame.  They are also all “safe” apologies. I encourage you to use one of these apologies today with an unhappy customer.

The bottom line.  If your goal is to restore customer confidence and retain more customers, you need to apologize to customers in the wake of any problem, regardless of fault. When you do, you create emotional bonds with customers and build and strengthen customer loyalty.

 

4 Ways Your Company Needs to Be Using FaceBook

4 Ways Your Company Needs to Be Using FaceBook

While “Tweeting”, FaceBook, and blogging are as familiar as an old-shoe to millions of consumers, most business leaders don’t understand how to harness the power of social media for business advantage. I want to get you going on the fast-track for using social media to build, strengthen, and even repair customer relationships.

This week we’ll talk about Facebook. With over 175,000,000 active users, Facebook is the fastest growing social network in the world. You had better believe MANY of your customers are on FaceBook every day.

Here are 4 specific ways you can begin to harness the power of FaceBook for your business.

1.    Poll your customers – Tens of millions of FaceBook users candidly give their feedback on a variety of issues. Businesses can use Facebook Polls to get answers to important questions about new products, current products, problems, or just about anything. Last Thursday, StarBucks asked its more than 1.2 million FaceBook “fans” for feedback on the company’s VIA Ready Brew. Facebook polling is really quick and simple to set up and you can accurately target your polls by gender, age, location, interests and other demographic data.

2.    Announce new products and services. Two weeks ago I found out on FaceBook that Southwest Airlines was beginning service to Boston Logon Airport. I got so excited about this news that I forwarded the announcement to everyone in my FaceBook and I even shared the news on Twitter. With a click of a mouse and virtually no-cost, Southwest was able to announce this new service to its 64,000 fans. Pretty smart, huh?

3.    Find complaints about your brand – and take action. Paula Berg of Southwest Airlines says, “We monitor more than 100 travel and airline industry blogs a day. We also are very active on YouTube, Twitter, and FaceBook.”

This morning I read in a Dell whitepaper that GelPro, the manufacturer of anti-fatigue kitchen floor mats recently found a negative review on Amazon. They identified the customer and resolved the situation. The customer had moved and was not aware that GelPro had attempted to resolve his issue long before his review appeared on Amazon. The result: GelPro turned a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one. He withdrew his negative Amazon review. A few weeks ago I wrote an article entitled: If I post a complaint about your brand on Twitter, how long will it take for your company to respond? If you haven’t read this article, you can check it out at http://tinyurl.com/bnpkt6

4.    Get your customers to “support” each other. Four or five years ago I bought some awesome video editing software from a  company called Serious Magic (it’s since been acquired by Adobe). I was new to video editing and I had LOTS of questions (problems). The first time I ran into a problem it was nearly 8pm, when the company’s support line was closed. I went to the online user forum and posted my question. Within 7 minutes I had consistent responses from three users. And the best news is their support actually fixed my problem!  For a period of three years I went back to that user forum with questions and I always got my issue resolved. Now how smart is that? Get users to share their expertise and truly help other customers, virtually deliver support 24 hours a day via ecstatic fans (users), AND slash your operation expenses (because the company doesn’t have to do it). This is one of the coolest uses of social media in my opinion. Your company can do this by simply building community platforms around communities of shared interest.

Don’t make the mistake of writing FaceBook off as Internet entertainment for young people. You can strategically use FaceBook to build relationships, capture the voice of the customer, quickly recover from problems, and so much more. Start a conversation with your consumers now and you’ll be on the leading edge! Get started on FaceBook now by going to http://www.FaceBook.Com/business

 

SIDE NOTE: While writing this article, I was on FaceBook on the page of a prominent company that strategically uses the site. I saw that on March 5th a customer posed a pretty serious complaint about the company, yet I saw no response from a company representive. I sent a message to the consumer, asking her if she’d heard back from XYZ company. It’s now been 6 days since the customer’s posting. Here’s what she just wrote back to me:

“Nope didn’t hear anything from them unfortunately.  Too bad too- bc i used to be a big XYZ fan.

Thanks for your concern, i appreciate it.”

 

Lesson here: When customers take the time to post a complaint or gripe on your official FaceBook (or Twitter, MySpace, etc.) page, YOU NEED TO RESPOND. And you need to respond publicly so all of the thousands of other users who visit the page can see your responsiveness. Your response needs to be posted within 24 hours.

 

Here’s How to Respond to the Yelling or Cursing Customer {with videos}

Operator woman talking on headset at work

Here’s How to Respond to the Yelling or Cursing Customer – Plus More Diplomatic Phrases to Help You Regain Control in 9 Common Situations with Difficult Customers

1. What to say to the yelling or cursing customer

  • “I’m trying to help you, but if you continue to yell and swear, I am going to ask that you call back another time. It’s up to you. You can talk reasonably, or you can call back.”
  • “I’m sorry. It isn’t possible to help while listening to that language. If it stops, I can help.”
  • “If a few minutes helps you calm down before we continue, that would be okay. You can certainly call me back.”
  • “I want to help you, yet the language is getting in the way.”

Note: Your tone is critically important with the above statements. You must come across calm, neutral, and non-threatening.

2. What to say to the customer who wants to speak to a supervisor

  • “I’m sorry you feel you need to talk to someone else, but that’s the reason I’m here. I have been given full authority to help resolve your concerns. May I have the opportunity to address this first?
  • “Please give me a chance to try and fix this for you. That’s why I’m here.”

3. What to say when you cannot honor the request for refund due to consumer error

  • “It is our company policy that we cannot pay a claim that involves consumer error. We have a responsibility to the company to uphold the integrity of our products. When a product performs as expected and has no deficiencies, we cannot take responsibility and accordingly can offer no financial assistance.”
  • “Although you might not agree with my decision, I’d like to explain it so you can at least understand.”
  • “We appreciate hearing about your experience, but we cannot compensate you in this matter because you failed to follow instructions/did not read instructions/misused the product.”

4. What to say to the rambler or storytelling customer

  • Before we hang up I want to be sure to tell you…” This statement psychologically leads the customer toward the end of the conversation.
  • “I don’t want to take up any more of your time so let me give you…” You can make this statement even when the customer has called you.
  • “One last thing I need to tell you….”
  • “I have all the information I need so I’ll now….”
  • “Please help me understand where this conversation is taking us.”

Here’s a short video on how to control calls with ramblers:

5. What to say when you need to convey empathy (to create calm with a demanding customer)

  • “The problem you experienced is no more acceptable to us than it was to you.”
  • “It must have been very frustrating for you to get the Widget home and discover it doesn’t work properly.”
  • “It must seem like these things take forever.”

6. What to say to the customer who wants you to bend the rules 

  • Remember: Today’s exception becomes tomorrow’s expectation
  • Empathize with the customer and at the same time remain neutral

Say something similar to:

  • “to be fair to everyone I must…”
  • “I wish that were possible, but your request is beyond my level of authority. I will, however, check with my manager.

7. What to say when you need a graceful exit

  • “We see this differently, and I am going to have to put more thought into the perspective you have shared with me. It’s helpful for me to understand how you see things. In the meantime, here is what I can do to solve the immediate problem.”
  • “I’m sorry that I have not been able to help you. If you don’t object, I would like to let a colleague/manager of mine attempt to better meet your needs.”

8. What to say to the demanding customer who wants on-the-spot answers

  • Reiterate what you know, what you can do, and what they can expect.
  • Explain, “I don’t want to further disappoint you. I want to be honest about what we can do for you.”
  • Be honest with the customer.
  • Do not let the customer make you give an immediate response.
  • Do not make any promises you can’t keep.

Sample responses:

  • “Your request goes beyond my authority. I will, however, contact the right people and have someone who can help call you back.”
  • “I know you would like an immediate response, and I wish that were possible. This request requires input from other people. I assure you I will locate the appropriate person who will get back in touch with you.”

9. What to say when you want to “safely” apologize

  • “Please accept my sincere apology for any frustration this may have caused you.”
  • “I am sorry for any misunderstanding you may have experienced.”

Download a PDF of Myra’s Phrases so you can share this with your employees.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.

 

The Corporate Apology: How to Apologize In 5 Easy Steps

Successful African-American Businessman

You probably remember the story about dozens of JetBlue Airlines’ passengers being stranded for more than 10 hours on the tarmac without taking off. Would you believe that JetBlue still managed to get the JD Power & Associates Award for #1 Customer Satisfaction for the airline industry for that year?

How did they do it? They apologized outright to customers after the traumatic event. And here’s how they did it:

 “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.”

A lot of companies are afraid to apologize because they think an apology assumes responsibility or that it may put the company at risk for liability. And I think this is a huge mistake.

The JetBlue example assumes total responsibility, holding nothing back. Look at how JetBlue goes on with their apology:

“Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience that we caused. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.”

JetBlue’s apology acknowledges their passengers’ “pain,” assumes accountability, conveys sincere concern, and the apology is direct. Most companies are too cautious to pull off an apology like this. Maybe the willingness to offer a genuine, bold apology after a service mishap is part of the reason JetBlue has topped the JD Power rankings for best in customer service for four consecutive years.

If your goal is to restore customer confidence and retain more customers, you need to apologize to customers in the wake of any problem, regardless of fault. When you do, you create emotional bonds with customers and build and strengthen customer loyalty.

Following are the 5 simple steps to apologizing to customers. Continue reading “The Corporate Apology: How to Apologize In 5 Easy Steps”

How a Tweet Brought My Internet Back Up

 

Last week my Internet started dropping and it resulted in me having to stop a webcast for a client.  Because my telephone is VOIP, whenever my Internet is down, so is my telephone line. The constant dropping of the Internet was a big inconvenience for one my clients, who had paid for and arranged to attend the webcast and it was aggravating to me, to say the least.

The Internet problems persisted for four consecutive days. And on each of those four days I called my cable company, Cox Communications in Tulsa, for help. Now, the thing about my Internet problem is, it was sporadic. The Internet would go down and come back up, usually pretty quickly. By the time I reached a live person at Cox, I’d be back online. One Tech I spoke with told me there was nothing they could do for me because at the time of my call, nothing was wrong.

Frustrated, I logged on to Twitter and posted this gripe:

“Cox Communications in Tulsa just basically told me there’s nothing they can do about my modem constantly dropping Internet!!!!”7:23 PM Apr 7th from web.

First thing the next morning, I received the following Tweet from Cox Communications:

If you need help getting your Internet problems resolved I’m here to help.

8:33 AM Apr 8th from web in reply to myragolden

 

Even though I actually teach companies how to get involved in online conversations with consumers and use social media for customer service, I was blown away with the immediate response from Cox. I was wearing my “consumer” hat and this was totally unexpected.

I couldn’t believe Cox had a Twitter account and that they monitored Twitter conversations. Not only was Cox listening, but they actually solved my problem! I learned from the Cox Twitter guy that my modem was transmitting high signals and that it was working too hard. The problem was quickly resolved with a service call, which the Twitter guy setup for me.

Now, how did the Cox Communications find my gripe so quickly? Probably, the Cox Twitter guy went to TwitterSearch.Com and typed in Cox Communications. Twitter Search offers real-time search of tweets, that’s Twitter entries. Once he typed in “Cox Communications” he was able to immediately see my tweet and he we was able to reply with an offer to help. And he saved the day for me. Not only that, but his intervention resulted in a ton of positive word-of-mouse advertising for the company. After I received his initial tweet, I posted another tweet that praised the company. Not only that, but  I shared the story with all of my FaceBook friends and now I’m sharing it with you.

Are you monitoring online conversations about your brand? If not, why aren’t you? My blockbuster webinar, “Social Media Is the New Customer Service” will put your company on the fast-track to protecting your brand credibility by listening to online conversations. The live event has passed, but you can download the digital recording right now and watch it with everyone on your customer service and marketing teams. Here are the details:

 http://www.callcenterwebinars.com/socialmedia_rec.html