Business Proverbs

Apology: An Effective Customer Service Tool
by Steve Marr

One Saturday, Bill was running errands that included picking up dry cleaning and a picture that had been framed. At the dry cleaners, he found that the two suits he had dropped off had been misplaced. The counter clerk said, "Sometimes cleaning just gets misplaced. Come back on Monday, and we should have it sorted out by then." At his next stop, Bill was told that his framed picture was not ready because the framing material had not yet arrived. He was told that the order should be ready the following Saturday.

Unfortunately, in far too many businesses today, when a company falls short on product quality or service, their employees tend to shirk personal and organizational responsibility. Customers are told to come back later, or their concerns are met with a helpless shrug. Sometimes, the customer is even blamed for the problem. I used to have my prescriptions filled at a pharmacy that often ran short on medication and had to order additional supplies. Unfortunately they would never call to notify me when refills would not be available on time. The result for me was several wasted trips. The eventual result for the pharmacy was a lost customer.

We've all experienced frustration at one time or another as customers, and most of us have probably fallen short on a promise or a delivery of service to one of our customers. What makes the difference is how we respond when we mess up.

The first thing we must do when we discover that we've slipped up or our company has is offer our customers a complete and sincere apology. Although an apology would not have saved Bill the time he wasted running errands, he would have felt better if he had received an apology instead of simply being told to come back later. King Solomon said, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses them will find compassion" (Proverbs 28:13, NASB).

Develop the habit of being quick with an honest apology when it's due and you'll gain the appreciation of many who would otherwise be frustrated and angry. See the situation from your customer's perspective, and then treat that customer the way you would want to be treated. Even if the situation is not your fault personally, be ready to offer your personal regrets on behalf of your coworkers or company. Though you may have done nothing wrong, to your customer you are their link to the problem and their hope for a solution.

Also, whenever possible, absorb the consequences of the mistake rather than asking your customer to pay the price. I went to pick up a suit one time from a clothing store and was told that the tailor was behind schedule and would need another day. Instead of asking me to come back, the sales man offered to drop off the suit at my office, giving me an excellent example of accepting responsibility even though he was not personally at fault. I have been a regular customer every since.

If you or your employees make a mistake, determine how your company can absorb the cost, in time and money. By paying extra shipping charges, if necessary, or making a delivery yourself, or reducing the price, you will demonstrate to your customers that your apologies are sincere and you really do value them as customers. King Solomon observed, "Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found in the upright" (Proverbs 14:9, NIV). In other words, be quick to offer your customer an adjustment or take on the extra burden yourself.

Steve Marr is a business/ministry consultant and author of the book Business Proverbs. His daily radio feature, "Business Proverbs" is heard on 1,000 radio stations. He is the former CEO of the fourth largest import-export firm in the United States. Website:

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