Just say you're sorry (and make your customer love you!)
3rd December 2012
... Comments

I travel to Canada and the States and usually return home amazed at the high level of customer service I’ve received in hotels, restaurants, shops and businesses there.  I’m made to feel special, noticed, acknowledged.  Thank you!  The Canadian banks even make more fuss of visiting dogs (awaiting biscuits and water bowls!) than I’ve had made of me in most English banks.  Indeed, I shudder to think what visitors to the UK make of our shop assistant retorts:  ‘If it ain’t on the shelf, we ‘aven’t got it”. 

Yes, I know marvellous service does exist here - and I personally know some businesses who show great care and concern for their clients...but I still advocate that it’s not yet the general norm and we could all raise our game.

There’s one big trick in caring for their customers that most businesses completely miss though - and that’s the chance to say sorry.  If it’s done well, the act of saying sorry in a business context can make the customer love you even more than they had before the mistake had happened!  It’s about turning a minus point into 100 plus points.  In fact, it can be such a powerful tool, I wonder if there’s an argument for deliberately making a mistake, just to have the opportunity to ‘make amends’ with aplomb?!

On a 2011 trip to Las Vegas, we stayed at The Cosmopolitan (@Cosmopolitan_LV ), a relative newcomer of a hotel, beautifully positioned in the central Strip region, overlooking the stunning Bellagio fountains.  During our stay there was a problem though...quite a big one as hotels go.  They lost all wifi and along with it, the use of much equipment that involved computer chips (including opening curtains, using the TV, ringing other rooms, electronic gaming cards etc).  They also had to revert to manual check-in at restaurants and the front desk, causing queues and havoc around.  This wasn’t just for an hour or so but for a few days - a nightmare for the hotel - and not ideal for guests, conference-goers et al.  It additionally caused me a major personal headache because I was (rather randomly!) organising a Guinness World Record event the following week - and found myself without internet access for days, at a time I needed to liaise with hundreds of people.  Aagh.

It’s hard to see how the hotel could climb back from that position to a place that’s now carved in our hearts with love, next to Calais (history reference!).  In fact, they not only won us round, but they turned us into unpaid ambassadors for The Cosmopolitan for we now find ourselves recommending it to all our friends and colleagues with such fervent passion, that stay there - they do!

Yes, we received comps and discounts and treats from the hotel as part of their compensation package.  Nice.  But it was even more about the WAY they handled us that swung it.  For a start, we were never treated as ‘just one of the many’ - even though thousands of customers were affected.  However, we were individuals to be made happy again, our names were always remembered, our moans were beautifully listened to and acknowledged and when I said to one charming male receptionist:  “I’m sorry to be a nuisance...”, he gently touched my hand, looked me in the eyes and said “You are not a nuisance and never, ever will be.”  I nearly cried.  He was so caring to hubby and me, it was unforgettable (it was the receptionist with major sideburns in case you’re there now).  If ever I have to have really, really bad news delivered to me, I want that man to be the deliverer!

Of course, we all make mistakes, both in personal life and in business.  It happens.  However, let’s not miss the moment to listen so beautifully to the aggrieved client, that they are left feeling treasured.  Let’s never sweep their feelings under the carpet.  We must acknowledge that our level of care wasn’t what we’d intended......and then put it more than right.  I’m the author of Play Nicely! Best Behaviour in Business - and I’m a big advocator of honesty, kindness and being trustworthy in business.  I’m sometimes known as The Office Auntie (can you just see me wagging a finger?!).

However, I also run The English Cream Tea Company (@englishcreamtea) which produces delightful hamper boxes of freshly made Afternoon Tea that are chilled and sent all over mainland UK.  Yes, people and businesses use them for Christmas and birthday gifts, thank yous and rewards.  However, here’s the thing - the biggest sudden rise in use is actually for our Sorry Boxes!  Wow.  That’s a sign of the times, to be sure.  Whether it’s businesses being extra kind and savvy - or showing fear of the damage that bad PR can quickly do, this is a whole new area that we are servicing.  Therefore we now convert whichever hamper box our client requests into a Sorry Box by adding in treats like SRRY and an O in shortbread letters plus our Little Book Of Sorry (it makes you smile) -  and send it out with their personalised message inside, ready to soothe wounds and charm customers back into a happy state.  Well, if plump scones, clotted cream, luxury jam, tasty sandwiches, cakes and goodies don’t say ‘This is how special you actually are and how we really meant to care for you’, then nothing does!

So, sorry needn’t be the hardest word.  Instead of an American Airlines broken guitar PR disaster (the guitar owner used social networking to spread the word to such affect, it reputedly wiped $180 million in value off American Airline shares)...use the opportunity to turn your potentially unhappy client into a delighted, smiling and very vocal ambassador of good will for your business.  That’s a win-win, indeed.

About the Author

Jane M

Member since: 24th May 2011

Speaker, coach, entrepreneur & author of Play Nicely! Best Behaviour in Business. I run The English Cream Tea Co creating cream tea hampers for UK. I own Guinness World Record for largest English Cream...

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