Seeking perfection is a sucker's path to futility, frustration, lost opportunities and relationships. As a recovering perfectionist, I share that truth based on experience and research.
That's one reason why I chose to not hype the title with 'perfect.'
Any expertise with apologies came through my regular, sometimes daily, practice in delivering them. Practice never makes perfect, but it does mean I can practice less frequently. Still, I'm pretty sure I'll have more practice sessions in the near future.
Here's what I've learned so far. I hope it helps.
Apologize Immediately. Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. Apologize immediately. Hesitating implies prevarication. You're hiding something. It raises question in your recipient’s mind like: Why’d you wait so long. Their question, spoken or not, distract them from hearing your message. Suspicions do that and apologies are meant, in part, to eliminate suspicions. Why wait when waiting only adds to the challenge?
Plus, you'll feel better. It's like lancing a blister. Once it's lanced, you feel better.
Speak Directly, Simply, Honestly. My favorite opening line as CEO of a small company was my name, my title and then “We really hosed this situation” or “We really screwed up.”
- Do not hide behind Statements of Apology that your organization's PR resources put out for you.
- Do not hide behind a PR-Spin campaign.
- Do not rationalize or justify. All the other companies are doing it... won't work just like All the other kids did it didn't work with your parents.
You, corporate or personal, created the need for the apology. Only you can deliver an apology that can heal the wound.
Listen. After introducing myself and the reason for my call, I say nothing. That gives those you offended the floor to speak, to vent, to rant, to threaten. They’ve earned it. Our mistakes gave it to them.
Do not blame others. Well, we can't find good people...or They did it....those other people/vendors/suppliers/partners...No. Don't.
You delivered the problem by hiring and training (or not) your staff and those other partners/etc.
Ask for Their Solutions. Ask the offended party what they need from you to make it right. At this point, I ask What do I need to do to make it right for you? or Tell me what I need to do to make it right for you.
Notice I didn't mention staying a customer. Nor did I mention money.
Some readers may gasp. Oh my god, they could say anything....! But they never did. Frankly, I was glad they didn’t, because I would have honored their request. Treat people with respect, empower them with the tools to make the right decision and nearly every time they will make the right decision, right for both of you.
Follow through on this learning opportunity to make sure processes and people are in place to insure this same mistake is never repeated.
Share with them the impact of this mistake including if this customer remained a customer.
Show how it impacted not just the customer, but everyone’s day.
These are tricky steps. No one wants to revisit a mistake privately much less among their peers. But, if you've created a culture where mistakes are handled as learning lessons...then you can have this conversation. And, if you haven't, you'll find out and can start building that culture before the next mistake happens. And it will.
Ask them the same question you asked your customer:
What do we need to do to make this right for the future?
Follow-up with the customer. Here's the pot at the end of the rainbow. Disclaimer: I hate introducing the idea of rewards here. Apologies are required in and of themselves. They are the right thing to do if you care, if you are a person of integrity.
Apologies are also the right thing to do if you plan to stay in business. Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000. Pete Blackshaw, Nestle's Global Head of Digital & Social Media wrote this book. An apology will insure you avoid angry customers. But, more than that, I've found an open, sincere, direct apology made in person not only avoids angry customers but it creates loyal, even evangelical customers.It's like the test of a relationship. They've seen you at your worst and you behaved with dignity and professionalism. Now, they can trust you.They can endorse you without hesitation. They did, too.
I wasn't ruminating about this issue of apologies and business. But, The Apology Peace Process by Jeanne Bliss, triggered the desire to write this post. Check it out. She's an expert on customer service and she writes at Chief Customer Officer. Her book, I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions that Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad, is excellent.