Customer Apologies – Worth The Effort?

Seventy-Seven Percent Is Worth the Effort!

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have had to deal with an upset customer at some point in our time in the workforce. It’s not fun. It’s even less fun when we realize it was our employee who caused a royal mess. To make matters even more challenging, not every customer is going to be patient and understanding. Depending on the circumstances and details, it’s not uncommon to be faced with a really mad customer.

How we deal with it can make all the difference in the world.

…and this all points back to leadership. Why? Because we are responsible for ensuring our staff knows how to deal with uncommon situations with an upset customer. It requires us to make sure our employees know how to deal with the human behavior component of customer service. Providing standard training on policies and procedures isn’t enough.

However, sometimes that’s the extent of attention and training provided to our frontline workers or staff who deals directly with our customers. After all, they are generally on the very low end of the totem pole. This also means their pay scale is in alignment with their title.

But that’s just the first step.

It’s unfortunate when a customer service representative or register clerk reacts to an upset customer inappropriately. It’s even more unfortunate to realize that our employee is unable to separate any personal issues she might be experiencing and takes it out on anyone who crosses her path.

Take a Proactive Stance

Just because our front-line workers or employees who deal directly with our customers are at the lower end of the pay scale doesn’t mean the job is less deserving of acute attention proper training.

Quite the contrary.

They are dealing with our customers directly. Day in and day out. Our customers come with all sorts of personalities and behavioral traits and so do our employees.

It’s up to us to ensure our employees possess a healthy degree of patience and a track record of excellent communication skills. It also means they must also possess a healthy degree of soft skills. For those organizational leaders who aren’t already doing so, consideration should be given to continuous improvement opportunities in these specific areas.

Losing a customer can be expensive when we consider the fact that at least 90% of displeased customers will not do business with us again.

How employees deal with customers is a direct reflection of how they are being treated by their management and leaders, too. So this is more important than many leaders want to accept.

Tips for Training Employees to Effectively Deal with a Mistake   

  • Herein lies where actively listening carries a lot of weight

I know it can be difficult, especially when the customer is upset. Yet, it’s amazing to know that sometimes she just wants to be heard (while you are fixing the problem, of course). Some really easy ways to let the customer know we’re listening include comments such as ‘I can imagine just how frustrating this must be for you’.

  • Even when we aren’t necessarily to blame, it’s a good idea to avoid things like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’

It doesn’t seem genuine because it’s pointing attention at the way we assume the customer feels. We don’t actually know how he feels.

  • Paraphrasing is especially helpful in times like this, too

It shows we’re listening and trying to make sure we’ve heard them correctly. Plus, it gives us the chance to make sure we really did hear him correctly. Ending the paraphrased comment with ‘because of [this error]’ can really drive things home.

It can be exceptionally powerful when a customer is mad.

A couple of tips to avoid:

  • There is a fine line between making excuses and trying to explain the situation

Nobody wants to hear excuses, especially when we’re a frustrated customer

  • It’s not uncommon for people to want to share their own similar stories, in an effort to relate

Avoid doing this because the customer [doesn’t care about what happened to you] and is truly only interested in getting his problem fixed

  • Take care of as much of the problem as possible in one sitting

An upset customer doesn’t want to be handed off to another department or told that ‘we’ll look into it and get back to you’. Ensure that your employee can settle enough of the situation so that the customer feels secure that a resolution is coming.

  • Remember to thank the customer for giving us the chance to take corrective action

It demonstrates how seriously we are accepting and dealing with the situation. Furthermore, when we have made a mistake with a customer, acted quickly, expressed sincere empathy, and left the customer feeling good about how things were handled, they will actually promote our company. We all know the power of word-of-mouth.

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Somewhere between 70-77% of unhappy customers will do business with us again if we make things right. The ticket is to be sincere. What’s even better news is that ratio rises to 96% when we’ve acted quickly (US Office of Consumer Affairs, 2015). [/message] [su_spacer]

The goal is to take responsibility. This is means taking responsibility for the actions of the company. This may also mean that your management team may be in need of additional support with training their front-line workers, too.


Dr. Jennifer Beaman
Dr. Jennifer Beaman
FOR over 25 years, Jennifer has served as an executive consultant helping organizational leaders streamline processes and strategies by enhancing skills and practices. Serving as a strategic consultant to industry-wide businesses throughout California, she soon recognized the unparalleled value of human capital. In turn, she introduced leadership and executive development services, thereby providing a more holistic opportunity for clients. Cornerstone to helping leaders recognize the power of their actions and behavior, she weaves the art of emotional intelligence into all interactions, thereby promoting thorough value to the entirety of organizational systems. Joining ranks as a business owner in 2004, she partnered in a California-based sign manufacturing business. This business served a variety of clients, primarily larger corporations, franchises and Fortune 100-500s. In 2008, she participated in partnership in southern California specializing in project management and leadership development services. This corporation served clients ranging from Fortune 50-100s. The Association for Leadership Practitioners is a subsidiary of a parent company opened in 2010 and serves clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500s. Dr Beaman also serves as a partner at Chasing Limitless, Inc., providing strategic consulting and executive leadership development services to catapult organizational revenue and growth and primarily serves Fortune 500 companies. She holds a Doctorate in Management with a focus in Organizational Leadership; Master's degree in Organizational Management; and Bachelor's degree in Organizational Development. She is an active member is several professional affiliations and volunteers on a consistent basis helping entrepreneurs and doctoral students working toward publishing their dissertations.

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  1. I enjoy reading your articles, Dr. Jennifer. They are so identifiable to situations we all find ourselves in. I have attended one customer service class in my entire career and it was for retail sales back when we had to call in for a charge of more than $50 for MasterCard and $75 for Visa. I’m sure I could use a refresher. Even without the benefit of training, what you have presented here just makes sense. Have a goal to solve the problem, not pacify the situation. Listen at heart level. When you do that, you will not be eager to talk over the person trying to get their point across. Understanding come from the heart. And yes, please – no blaming or excuses.

  2. I take it for granted that people know how to do customer service. This is because I received a lot of training in customer service when I first started in the data industry. So I find it very frustrating when I am talking to customer service and they are rude and condescending.

    I remember last year when I was talking to someone in customer service, and they kept putting words in my mouth on what I was concerned about. He was arguing with me on what I was concerned about. So I told him, I find this frustrating that I was saying X and that he was saying Y. I then asked if he could please address my X. The guy hung up on me. When I called back to get my concern addressed, another customer service guy of course resolved it in under a minute.

    Yes, I will do business with this company again. I am part of the 96%.

    • Oh! My! Goodness! I, like you, Chris don’t hold the moronic attitude of one person up as a reflection on the entire organization. I might think twice and choose another option if all things are equal or the other option is clearly the better way to go, but it wouldn’t be because of decrepit service one or two times.

      I’m kind of a forgive and move on sorta person.