Good customer service includes apologies

Have you ever met someone or dealt with a company who refused to acknowledge a mistake? We’re human. We all make them. Even with the best processes in place, there are times when we simply mess up.

Whether it’s being in a hurry and doing something dumb because you’re not paying attention or over-promising and under-delivering, it happens. The right thing to do is own up and try to make it right. Most of the time, a simple apology is all the customer seeks.

Sadly, some don’t have the maturity or wisdom to admit an error and say “I’m sorry.” Instead, they go to great lengths to prove the other party wrong. As the client continues to try to be heard, they’re met with a barrage of reasons why the provider is right. The customer leaves the conversation feeling discouraged and often angry. That’s not a good way to operate in today’s business climate.

We live in a small, connected world. It serves no purpose to make someone feel bad about their choice to support you or your business.

People forgive startup mistakes

If you’re a newer business, you’re probably struggling to get everything right the first time. Estimates are tough to calculate when you don’t know how long something will take you to do. Maybe you didn’t factor in all the costs involved in delivering a product or service? People understand this, particularly when you fess up about challenges.

Many small business owners are afraid to admit an error. They think it makes them look weak or unprofessional. The opposite is true. Most clients are remarkably understanding when you’re honest with them. They recognize the unexpected happens, can relate from personal experience, and appreciate being notified about an issue when it occurs. In fact, if you ask a customer for help finding an answer to a problem, you’ll often get easier and less expensive solution than what you may have proposed.

It’s also common for small businesses to promise too much early on. In the excitement of attracting a new client, you shorten your delivery timeline or offer a discount, thinking this will seal the deal. Once you dig into the job, you realize estimates were unrealistic. Now what do you?

Apologizing is an important small business customer service strategy
Quit being proud – not fessing up to a mistake makes you look like a jerk.

Right, the first step is to apologize. Let the client know as you soon as discover you’re not going to be able to deliver as promised. Ask them how you can make it right. If it’s missing a deadline, in most cases the customer will simply say “don’t worry about it.”

Of course, if an event, media appearance or other factor hinges on you delivering on time, as promised, that’s a bigger problem you need to fix. Do some research ahead of time to determine if there’s an alternative provider that can help. That should be your out-of-pocket cost, by the way. It’s a hard lesson learned you likely won’t forget, or repeat.

Once you both agree on a new deadline, cost, or other conditions of delivery that’s amended from the initial agreement, make them a top priority. Before you commit, be certain you can do it. One miss is forgivable. Two in a row is a pattern of poor performance.

Don’t blame other people. Whether they contributed to the problem or not, you’re the one the client trusted. Take responsibility instead of deflecting it. That shows class.

If you can, offer the client a little something extra for their patience and understanding. If you can’t, a simple thank you card with a thoughtful message can go a long way toward mending a mistake. Don’t just shoot out an email or text. Take the time to select a card, write a sympathetic note and send it. That’s memorable.

Customer service requires a client’s perspective

Most small business owners fail to recognize that a client complaint isn’t about you. It’s about a client’s need to be heard. Someone who’s decided they’re no longer going to do business with you usually doesn’t take the time to complain. They simply walk away. Then they tell others their story about their bad experience.

A compliant is an opportunity. It’s a client reaching out to see how you respond. Some are tempted to reply immediately with excuses or “proof” they’re right. That’s a poor way to handle any communication that starts with a stated concern.

Instead, try to understand what’s going on in the client’s mind. Did a customer fail to follow directions you provided verbally and is complaining their investment in you was a total loss? Next time you’ll know to put it in writing. In the meantime, figure out if you can meet them halfway.

Admit you could have done things differently. Thank them for sharing an experience that will help you do it better in the future. Resist the temptation to defend your actions. Simply responding in a way that makes the client feel heard will often diffuse the situation. Pointing out how wrong or dumb or trivial the customer’s opinion is will only provoke them. You may get a moment of satisfaction blowing off steam, but that venting can be costly.

Did you break a confidence by sharing a private correspondence that led to backlash for the customer? Even if you were trying to help, that’s wrong in so many ways. Don’t spew back all the reasons you have to justify your actions. Take a deep breath and spend a few moments trying to understand what the client is trying to tell you. Acknowledge their concerns with your response. Then apologize. It’s not that hard. Failure to do so, however, will leave the client feeling disregarded and betrayed.

When someone reaches out to you to cite a concern, they want you to show you care. They want you to do something that affirms they matter. It’s about empathy. Put yourself in your client’s shoes before you leap to the keyboard with a rebuttal.

Treating customers right isn’t about right or wrong. In the end, it really doesn’t matter who’s correct. What does matter is how you make the client feel. When you reply with words that show you heard stated concerns and appreciate time taken to reach out, that positively shifts the energy of the conversation. Simply listening and acknowledging a point of view is often enough to satisfy concerns.

There are always three sides to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth. It’s not that people intentionally confuse the facts. It’s human nature to interpret things from our own perspectives. The next time you feel tempted to prove how right you are, ask the question “To what end?” That defensive or snarky reply isn’t likely to serve your aims. Knowing what you want to accomplish before you start writing a response makes a big difference in what you say. Doing it right turns detractors into allies. Good customer service includes apologies.

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