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News & Blogs: Learning & Leadership

5 wrong ways to apologize

Wednesday, March 02, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Dr. Sandra Folk

It seems we’ve been going through an era of apologies on a grand scale with so many large corporations apologizing for misleading consumers. I am certain, like many consumers, you appreciate when someone who has offended you offers an apology. But there are occasions when, to put it bluntly, an apology doesn’t cut it.

Related: Do people find you obnoxious?

Recently, I was in a minor car accident. Minor, but not for my car, which needed repairs. I contacted my insurance company, but wasn’t happy with its suggestion of a repair shop and decided to go to another garage. Simple, right? Wrong.

Without going into full detail, let’s just say that it got complicated. And I was very unhappy with the level of service I received from the insurance provider. I ended up going back and forth many times with the adjuster. Eventually, in frustration, I ended up contacting the senior vice president of claims.

His response to my frustration with the company was this: “I’m sorry.” Nothing more! He didn’t say that he fully understood the situation, or that he didn’t understand, but would investigate and get back to me, or any other number of possibilities that suggested he was taking a genuine interest in my concern. It was just, “Sorry.” Frankly, sorry wasn’t good enough! It reminded me of a headline I once saw: “Sorry, But Your Customers Don’t Care If You’re Sorry!”

His response was a prime example of how not to communicate in a business setting and how to irritate a customer or colleague. After all, it’s easy for anyone to mouth the words “I’m sorry.” It’s harder to deal with a problem head on and seek a solution. But that’s what effective business leaders do. They respond to people and understand they want results; they want action.

On the other hand, if you want to alienate someone, go ahead; offer that insincere apology! (I say this tongue firmly in cheek, of course.) In fact, if you really want to make sure to annoy a colleague or customer, the following tips pretty much guarantee customer dissatisfaction:

1. Offer an insincere apology.

2. Avoid the person by hiding behind email and unreturned phone calls.

3. Respond inappropriately to a complaint.

4. Given the opportunity to develop a relationship, ignore it.

5. View engagement as a nuisance.

Take a look at this infographic, The Cost of Unhappy Customers It drives home the point that an unhappy customer is a very powerful one. Unhappy U.S. customers cost businesses more than $537 billion dollars a year, according to Accenture’s 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey. Similarly, a rocky relationship with a peer can create dysfunction that results in sloppy work, missed opportunities, and higher turnover.

So rather than risk damage to your business relationships try this: Respond to a problem thoughtfully, rather than hoping that it will go away if you just apologize. Because you know what? It won’t.

Dr. Sandra Folk, founder of the Language Lab specializes in improving the business writing and presentation skills of executives and their employees. She is a published writer in the fields of education and journalism and has authored textbooks and articles on the subject of business communication.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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