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The Magical Apology

Keep customers happy by promptly taking responsibility for screw-ups.

Robin Amster

In business there’s no such thing as “never having to say you’re sorry.” But that may not be so bad. Consultant Bill Rosenthal, CEO of East Hampton, N.Y.-based Communispond, says timely and effective apologies strengthen relationships and build trust with angry customers. He has these tips on the right way to apologize:

Do it quickly. A delay tells a customer you don’t value the relationship or don’t want to face up to the problem.

Call or meet in person. Resist the temptation to apologize in an email. Speed is crucial but email is a poor substitute for things best said on the phone or face to face. You can follow up with an email message or, better still, a handwritten note.

Research whatever you can before contacting the customer. Speed is good but not at the expense of information. If it’s possible to find a solution first, then take the extra time.

Listen carefully—and demonstrate you’re doing so. Show you’re tuned in by paraphrasing what the customer is saying. If meeting in person, lean forward, nod and express your concern.

“I apologize” has it all over “I’m sorry.” There’s a subtle difference: “I’m sorry” acknowledges your feelings about the problem, but “I apologize” makes it clear you not only regret the situation but take responsibility for it.

Keep cool. Never respond to an angry customer’s disrespect with more disrespect. It’s the worst thing you can do. 

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