You’re human. Mistakes will happen. Nothing is perfect and something will go wrong. Not every customer will be satisfied. This is not a failure. The best businesses are the ones that mess up and show how they fix their mistakes. They build their customer’s trust and prove they are listening to them.
When a significant other makes a mistake and owns up to it, do you dump them because they messed up or do forgive them and trust them more because they were honest? Depending on the situation, you’ll forgive them and that will make your relationship stronger.
It’s similar with business. Mistakes happen, but when a business owns up to it and apologizes, they’ll build a better relationship with the customer.
Listen To Your Customer Complaints
When customers complain, sometimes they just want someone to hear them out.
They had a poor experience, and no matter how big or small it was, the least you can do is listen. What do you learn when you listen? You find out about problems that would have created more dissatisfied customers in the future.
When you listen to a customer, you have an opportunity to establish a relationship with that customer. By listening to them, you’ll let them know you care. Just because a customer is upset doesn’t mean they are a lost cause, or gone forever.
Regardless of the size of the issue, let the customer know you heard their problem and understand their frustration.
One of my first jobs was a clerk at a small drug store/gift shop. I was 16 and terrified when customers complained because I had no idea what to do and no authority to do anything about it. This is when I discovered if I let a customer vent their frustrations to me and apologize for their poor experience, they would always leave happier than when they came in.
Business Is About Relationships
It is easy to forget the fact that business is all about relationships. Relationships with your current customers, but with vendors, former customers, clients, the community, and more.
The Perfect Apology, a site dedicated to helping readers craft the perfect mea culpa, understands this relationship connection between a business and customer. It offers the following strategy about how to protect that relationship:
1. Look at the reason behind your business apology and who has been affected by the situation.
2. Determine the most appropriate way to apologize and when that apology should be given.
3. Ask and answer the following four basic questions:
What are you apologizing for?
Who are you apologizing to?
How do you apologize?
When should you apologize?
When someone complains, it’s not the end of the relationship. Instead, it’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to strengthen that relationship and rebuild it.
How To Apologize Face-To-Face
When I was in the first grade, a teacher of mine told us that if we were going to apologize to someone, sorry is never enough. When you apologize you should state their name, tell them what happened, tell them why it happened, and that you’ll never do it agin.
As I’ve been doing research on business apologies, I’ve been learning this form of apology is what most businesses use. It’s a five-step process.
- Apologize. Actually say you are sorry. Don’t say that you are “sorry they feel that way” but say “I am sorry.”
- State what you did wrong. Make sure you inform the customer what your business did wrong. This is you owning up to your mistakes and taking ownership of them.
- Acknowledge how they are feeling. Imagine yourself in their shoes, and let them know you understand (or are trying to understand) how the situation made/makes them feel.
- Express regret. Let them know you feel bad about the situation.
- Promise it won’t happen again. It’s hard to promise that something will never happen again, but you can at least mention how you will do your best to prevent a mistake from happening again.
A crisis is never fun but it does give you an opportunity to build a lasting relationship with your audience. Of course, this is based on how you handle it.
Customers Value Apology More
What do customers value more? An apology or some form of monetary value in exchange for the poor experience?
The Nottingham School of Economics conducted a study and found that unhappy customers are more willing to forgive a company that offers an apology rather than monetary compensation.
Why would customers be more willing to forgive a company that offers an apology?
Researchers theorized that when customers hear “I’m sorry”, it triggers an instinct to forgive. It’s an instinct that is difficult for people to overcome.
I have to admit that the results of this study came as a surprise for me.
From my experience, I know customers always value a genuine apology. I’m on the marketing team for a sandwich shop and like anyone in the food industry knows, mistakes happen. Typically when a customer complains, we apologize and offer to send them something in the mail. That something is usually a free sandwich. We’ll typically say something that directly addresses their poor experience, apologize for it and ask for them to give us another chance to make up for their poor experience. I believe this is a good balance between an apology and compensation.
Author Bruna Martinuzzi wrote a wonderful post on the best way for businesses to apologize, sharing some great apology do’s and don’ts. What’s the big takeaway?
- Don’t use the word “if”. An apology that is “if I offended you, I’m sorry” is basically saying “I don’t understand how you can be offended, but if you are so sensitive to being offended, let me apologize.” That’s not the vibe you want to give off to your customers. You don’t want to insult them again. Just say, “I’m sorry we offended you.” That’s straight to the point and you took ownership of the situation.
- Don’t give excuses. Excuses are tempting because there is usually a reason behind your actions. Yet excuses are easily one of the most annoying things about apologies. “I’m sorry I offended you, but I was just following customer policy.” Even if you have an actual reason as to why a situation occurred, refrain from making excuses. You can explain the situation, but don’t use an excuse. It will make your apology less genuine.
- Make it brief. Keep your apology short. It’s easy to ramble on, but don’t. Short and sweet is the rule. This will make it seem more genuine and less about you.
- The sooner the better. The time frame on giving an apology does expire. Don’t delay an apology. 50% of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them, according to RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report. If possible, apologize before the customer even knows about the situation. It will make the customer trust you more. For business, trust is everything.
- Value the relationship. You don’t always need to be right. The value of a relationship will often overshadow your need to be right. By arguing about who is right and who is wrong, you’re doing more damage. Does it matter who is right? Will it harm the relationship between you and the customer? Is it worth it?
- Create an apology policy. If you have multiple employees, it can be hard to keep everyone in the loop on what’s the best way to apologize. Even if you are the only person in your company, an apology policy will help keep you on track with consistent and level headed responses. Martinuzzi points out Starbuck’s LATTE method for dealing with complaints. Starbucks’ baristas are trained to respond to complaints by Listening (L), Acknowledging (A), (T) Taking Action, Thanking (T), and Explaining (E). There is emphasis on listening first and only lastly on explaining what happened. Try to create an easy to remember policy that will help you and your employees deal with complaints.
How To Apologize On Social Media
One reason business owners don’t want to go into social media is because they are afraid they’ll be on defense the entire time. Any time a customer has so much as a mediocre experience they come flocking to their social media networks and complain. It seems like all they would do on social media is apologize.
According to research by Andy Beal, a reputation manager, a happy customer will tell 5 people while an unhappy customer will tell 10. It’s important to prevent an unhappy customer. When an unhappy customer is using social media, those 10 people can easily turn into 100 and more. This happens when they post a poor review, complain on their social networks, or write a blog post about it.
Because social media influences others, it is important to treat a complaint as seriously as you would a face-to-face complaint. What else do you need to know about apologizing on social media?
- Be present. Be on the same social media platforms your target audience is. When a complaint comes your way, you’ll be able to respond. If you don’t respond, people will assume you don’t care. Show your customers you care by responding.
- Get them away from the public eye. As I’ve said before, I’m on the marketing team for a sandwich shop. When we get a poor review or a person complains on social media, we try to get to the bottom of the situation, but away from the public eye. When there is an initial complaint I’ll say something like “Can you message us the details of this experience so we can get to the bottom of it and prevent it from happening again.” Before I say this, I’ll acknowledge them and their complaint. This gets the person to message you in private and vent the details to you. When other people read the complaint, it shows you care about what your customers say and take action. People will trust a business that does something over nothing.
- Respond to positive feedback. Social media allows you to build trust with your audience before a complaint is even made. If you interact with your audience, retweet, mention, and ask questions, they’ll have a positive image of you. By building this relationship, if something does go wrong, they feel like they can trust you, and will let you know in a nicer way.
- Respond quickly. Don’t check your social media accounts every few days, check them multiple times an hour. 42% of consumers expect a company to respond to their social media complaint in less than 60 minutes.
Is The Customer Always Right?
For many years, the most popular form of customer service has been, “the customer is always right.” Is that still the best policy?
That policy basically means you’ll be apologizing no matter who is truly at fault in the situation. This policy could be re-phrased. Instead of “the customer is always right” it could be “remember how valuable the customer is.” The customer may not be right, but they are valuable. So, take complaints seriously and respond with respect. It’s true that social media blackmail does happen, but most customers are legitimate with their complaints.
When a customer complains it can seem like they have a bad attitude. That easily makes you have a bad attitude.
Remember: you never know what kind of day another person is having. We all have bad days. It could be something as trivial as they woke up late or something as serious as they found out a loved one passed away. Don’t try to add to their stress, and instead, show them kindness and respect. Most of the time, they will give you the respect you gave them. Even if they still end up with a bad attitude, at least you didn’t contribute to it.