Apologizing is something customer service people learn during training. For all we know, it’s a proven psychological tactic, proven through years of studies with mice.
But businesses seem to apologize a lot. Too much. Customer service agents apologize if we’re unhappy about anything nowadays, whether it’s their fault or not. Waiters apologize to a customer when the customer complains that the food is too spicy (even though the menu says that the food is spicy). A store employee apologizes when something is out of stock (even though the customer is there a day after the big sale is announced). The person behind the front desk apologizes when a room isn’t ready yet, even though it clearly states that check-in time is 3 p.m. A telecom employee apologies for the long wait on a Saturday even though every person in the store is dealing with customers.
Why are they apologizing so much? At what point does the consumer--your customer or client--step up and assume some responsibility here?
This is relevant in a service business because the definition and quality of a service can be very debatable. What some consider to be satisfactory might be unsatisfactory to others.
Service businesses seem to apologize for everything--it’s a knee jerk reaction. But often it’s not the right reaction, for three reasons.
1. Apologies change the dynamics of the relationships with your clients.
Saying you’re sorry all the time diminishes your credibility. It puts the client into a superior position and that’s not a recipe for a good relationship. Good relationships are about equal and mutual respect, not one party having dominance over the other.
If there is one party who must have authority over the other, it should be you, the service provider. You are the accountant, the lawyer, the consultant, the tech professional. You’ve been hired for your expertise and knowledge that the client doesn’t have. Saying “I’m sorry” too much (particularly if things aren’t your fault) will make your clients question whether they made the right decision relying on your expertise.
2. Apologies are often empty and irrelevant.
The more that companies apologize, the less meaning it has.
For example, when an airline apologizes for a delayed flight, people usually just roll their eyes, if they were paying attention at all. When a customer rep (on the phone) profusely apologizes for your Internet problem, you can tell that it’s not really heartfelt.
To make an apology meaningful, it should be delivered less often and only when it’s really deserved.
3. Apologies open the door for more costs.
The minute that you admit fault, whether it’s justified or not, a client will see an opening to profit. This is just human nature.
Instead of apologizing, you may simply say, “I’m disappointed to hear that.” Don’t apologize just for the sake of it. You can always be empathic without admitting fault because in many cases, you or your business may really not be at fault.
This doesn’t mean that apologies aren’t necessary sometimes. When we make mistakes we should own up, apologize, and fix them. But the best approach is to try to keep your apologies to the minimum. By constantly apologizing, you may be hurting yourself more than you think. And besides, customers don’t want apologies: they just want to get what they paid for.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.
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