Apologies (Part 3) – The Definitions

In most customer service training manuals, an apology is associated with empathy which is defined as identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. Keep in mind, an empathetic apology means that you identify with the customer’s situation, feeling or motive. It doesn’t mean you agree with it, think it’s valid or that you accept blame for it. It simply means that you identify.

Remember, in my previous post I established that customers want the problem resolved AND they want to know you care about what they are going through. Bottom line: an appropriate apology is the most simple and effective way of communicating to customers that you identify/care about what they are going through.

To be effective, I find that an apology necessitates a variation of the word “sorry” or “apologize“.

  • I’m sorry
  • We’re sorry
  • I apologize
  • Let me extend an apology
  • We apologize

I often hear the word “unfortunately” used as a substitute for an apology (e.g. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to ship your order“). But the word “unfortunate,” by definition, does not identify with the customer. The root word is “fortune” or “luck.” It communicates an understanding that you’ve been unlucky, or to be more direct that “fortune screwed you” but doesn’t really communicate your identification with what happened. For that empathetic identification you need an apology (e.g. “I’m sorry, but your order won’t arrive as we originally estimated.”).

Next post: Apologies (Part 4) – The Delivery

Related Posts: Apologies (Part 1) – The Issue; Apologies (Part 2) – The Reason

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  5 comments for “Apologies (Part 3) – The Definitions

  1. May 7, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Hi, I just wanted to say that you make an interesting point in this post. I guess I never really thought about the phrasing of apologies in a customer service setting before. But you’re absolutely correct that a word like “unfortunately” simply doesn’t have the desired effect.

  2. May 7, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks for the comment! I know it may seem like a minor point to some, but being methodical and consistent in communication with customers can be vital to building satisfaction, loyalty and brand identity.

  3. May 7, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    Dealing With Irate Customers

    In the many years that I worked in customer service, I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve had to deal with an irate customer, thank Goodness. As one of the interview questions for a customer service position,…

  4. May 8, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    Along with those phrases above, there is another sort of phrase, that can be used, but certainly not very often.
    “You are right. We really messed that up.”
    Of course, that should immediately be followed with a resolution statement-which you have pointed out in part 4.
    Great stuff Tom!
    Keep up the good work.
    AC

  5. May 9, 2006 at 5:51 am

    Excellent suggestion, AC. As usual, you’re right on target. That sincere acknowledgment will serve both you and the customer well.

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