Apologies (Part 4) – The Delivery

An apology is a soft skill that requires finesse to have maximum effect. Apologies come with a high degree of difficulty. For an apology to accomplish its’ mission, it needs to be delivered at the appropriate time in the appropriate way. When not done well, the apology becomes the source of customers increased irritation rather than a balm for their frazzled emotions. When this happens, CSRs become disillusioned and discouraged, vowing that apologies don’t work and they’re never going to do that again.

So, learn this soft skill well. Practice your delivery. For maximum effect:

  • Apologize immediately when you recognize that the customer’s needs have been unmet. Too often I hear a customer vent and steam their way through the call only to have a meager “Sorry ’bout that. Thanks for calling Acme Anvils” thrown in at the very end of the call. It’s too late by then and the apology is of little or no value to the customer.
  • Use a variation of “sorry” or “apologize”. I’ve had CSRs try to argue that they can apologize with their voice tone. I don’t buy it. The customers want to hear the words. Think about it. Let’s say I go home and tell my wife that I am no longer going to tell her “I love you” because I will communicate it, from now on, with my voice tone – you can bet it would not go over very well. Don’t make customers guess what you’re thinking – say the words.
  • Specify what you’re sorry for. A simply “sorry” thrown in there can be construed a myriad of ways. An effective apology points directly to the customer’s situation, emotion or motivation. “Sorry about that” is not nearly effective as “I’m sorry your order hasn’t arrived. I know how frustrating it is when you’re expecting something and it isn’t there.”
  • Couple the apology with a resolution statement. Remember that the customer wants both resolution and concern. It’s nice that you apologize, but what are you going to do about it? Make sure the apology is followed with an “I will,” “I can,” or “I am” statement. “I apologize that the item was damaged. I can understand your frustration. What I am going to do is get a replacement on its way immediately.”
  • Don’t overdose the customer with apologies. When ever I hear “I don’t want your apology!” or “Stop apologizing!” I know that one of two things has happened. Either the CSR apologized without any kind of resolution statement or they’ve O.D.’d the customer with apologies. If you apologize immediately, use the appropriate words, and combine it with a resolution statement, then you’ve generally provided an adequate prescription. I know we tend to think that more is better – but not in this case!

If you follow these principles, you are going to find that customers generally calm down faster, respond better and vent less. The result is overall improved call control, lower handle times and increased customer loyalty and satisfaction. I love it when everyone wins!

Related posts: Apologies (Part 1) – The Issue; Apologies (Part 2) – The Reasons; Apologies (Part 3) – The Definition

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  2 comments for “Apologies (Part 4) – The Delivery

  1. May 8, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    The delivery is so important. I think that 80% of problems that customers have is a result of their perception of our service.
    This reminds me of a sociological theory, called the Thomas Theorem. It was developed by William I. Thomas and Dorothy S. Thomas. The theory states that, “If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
    Tone and the way we speak are so important because they define our customer’s reality. I’ve heard customers get mad time and time again based not on any real affront or transgression, but just because of the way an agent has spoke to them.
    The words, tone and way we relate are so much more important than we realize. I think thats why customers hate IVR systems, they know that no one is listening to them and feel alienated, just like when they get an half-ass apology,(I call that the “my bad bro” apology)-they percieve it as the person not truly caring about them, which can be right often.
    I know this doesn’t sound like the same guy who goes on and on about his horrible customers, but that’s mainly to blow off steam. 80% of my customers are the salt of the earth, and I want to help them and apologize when they have been wronged. It’s just those 20% of them that make me go home muttering to myself sometimes.

  2. May 9, 2006 at 5:49 am

    You’re right, AC. Thanks for picking up on something I didn’t address in my post, which it voice tone. Customers know when you’re delivering an apology simply so it can get checked off on the QA checklist. Thanks also for the mini-tutorial on the Thomas Theorem. I learned something new today.

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