Do not apologise

Recently a client order a copy of my book and had to get it mailed via the Post Office. It took almost a month for him to receive the book, and mind you he stays on the next town from, it should have actually taken a week for him to get the book.

In the process, he would contact me and cordially inform me that the book has not arrived yet and each time I have to apologise that it is taking that long.

We all make mistakes, we are not perfect beings. It takes a great deal of courage and humility to apologise but as Benjamin Frankling once said:

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

We are always advised to apologise, but do we really know how to apologise.

There are many incorrect ways to apologise, but only a few correct ones.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best:

  • “You can always take your business elsewhere.” (1): Thank you, I will, and so will all of my friends.
  • “It is not our fault.” (2): This is a non-apology, where you are not seeking to redress the issue, nor evincing any sort of sympathy for the injured.
  • “We are sorry that you feel that way.” (3): This is also a non-apology, which roughly translates into “It pisses us off that you feel that way. If you didn’t feel that way, we would be happy.” It also does not take any responsibility for the problem, and places all of it onto the injured party. Be careful of any apology that starts “I’m sorry that you…”
  • “We are sorry if we did something wrong.” (6): This is getting there, but does not really accept responsibility either. You are not acknowledging that you did anything wrong; you are still hoping that you have not. You are offering an apology for appearances sake.
  • “We are sorry that this occurred.” (7): You are sorry, but as a matter of principle you are still trying to insist that it was not really your fault.
  • “We are sorry that we caused this problem.” or “We are sorry that we have let this happen.” (9): This is a full apology, and is what the customer needs to hear. Frankly, it does not matter that it was really the post office’s fault, and not yours; the customer does not care. Most people hearing this cannot help but respond with some sort of graciousness, such as “Well, all right then, these things happen. What are you going to do to fix it?” This is the target level that you want to hit for your customer service. But for the record, there is still one level to go. The complete apology is:
  • “We are so sorry that we caused this problem; we are really distressed over this. Please know that we take this very seriously. This is a huge oversight on our part. I will immediately notify my supervisor, and we will review our procedures to ensure that this cannot happen again. In the meantime, that is no consolation to you for our lack of service! What can we do to regain your trust? We will be sending you a little surprise as a token of our appreciation of having you as a customer.” (10) In truth, this little speech goes on until the customer interrupts. And it is followed by a few more apologies as the conversation closes, as well.

Mistakes happen. How you apologise matters. When you say “I’m sorry” mean it.

Apologising does not always mean you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.

PS: eventually I went to the Post Office to enquire about the delivery, only to find that the book was delivered to the nearest Post Office of my client. As to why it took so long or why my client didn’t get it? I don’t know, but I apologised to the client for the delay and I meant it.

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