The word "sorry" in a speech bubble used to illustrate our ‘how not to communicate in business’ list.

It seems that with so many large corporations apologizing this past year, we’re going through an era of apologies on a grand scale. (See: Writing for Business: 5 Tips to Keep it Simple). I am sure, you, as I, appreciate having someone, who has offended us, offering an apology. But there are occasions when, to put it bluntly, an apology doesn’t cut it.

Recently, I was involved in a minor car accident. Minor, but not for my car, which needed major repairs. I contacted my insurance company who insisted that I have the repair work done by their recommended repair shop. Although not my first choice, I took the car to their garage. Without going into full details, I was very unhappy with the level of service I received not only from the repair shop, but also from my insurance provider. I ended up going back and forth many times with the adjuster and the manager of the claims department. I was so perturbed by the inadequate service I received, I eventually contacted the Senior Vice President of Claims.

His response to my frustration with the company was, “sorry.” Nothing was said about fully understanding the situation. Nor was anything said about not understanding, but would investigate and get back to me, or about any other possibilities that suggested a genuine interest in my concern. Just to say, “I’m sorry,” frankly wasn’t good enough! It reminded me of a headline I once saw: “Sorry, But Your Customers Don’t Care If You’re Sorry”!

His response was, in fact, a prime example of how not to communicate in business, but how to irritate a client. After all, it’s easy for anyone to mouth the words “I’m sorry.” It’s harder to deal with a problem head on and seek a solution. And that’s what effective business communicators do. They respond to the client, understanding that clients want results. They want action!

On the other hand, if you want to alienate a client, go ahead, offer that insincere apology! (I say this tongue firmly in cheek, of course.) In fact, if you really want to make sure to annoy clients, the following tips pretty much guarantee customer dissatisfaction.

Five Ways to Offend Your Clients

1. Offer an insincere apology
2. Avoid your clients by hiding behind email and unreturned phone calls.
3. Respond inappropriately to customer complaints.
4. Given the opportunity to develop a business relationship, ignore it.
5. View customer engagement as a nuisance.

Now, removing tongue from cheek, in all seriousness, you really don’t want any of the above tips to become your mantra. Instead, have a look at this infographic, An Unhappy Customer Is An Influential One. It really drives home the point that more than ever — in this age of online customer reviews and social media — the unhappy customer is a very powerful one. According to Accenture’s 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey, unhappy U.S. customers cost businesses something like $537 billion dollars, a year. So rather than risk damage to your business relationships try this: Respond to a problem thoughtfully, rather than hoping that it will go away if you just apologize. Because you know what? It won’t.

For advice about how to respond to the people you do business, in a positive and productive way contact The Language Lab. We’ll make sure you keep your customers happy.

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