HR & Management

What's the best way to apologise to customers?

6 min read

17 March 2015

It’s the hardest word, according to a song, but "sorry" should be the easiest thing to say in business when things go wrong.

However, what’s the best way to apologise and make sure that you get the end result of a happy customer once again?

1. Mean it

You are there to apologise on behalf of the company and should genuinely want to understand what went wrong. If you use phrases like “all I can do is apologise” then you’re not doing your job. How are you fixing this problem? Do you understand what went wrong and can you prevent it happening again? Should the customer be compensated?

Make sure each customer feels reassured and deliver a quick apology. There is no instance where an apology isn’t required – even if  you’re sorry to hear they have a problem rather than accepting responsibility for the issue. It’s good manners.

2. Offer a refund or replacement

It’s important to offer a resolution and if you can stay on the phone to understand a problem and troubleshoot a solution that gets the customer back up and running, that’s better than them waiting for a replacement item to be sent the next day or refunding them and leaving them to make their own future arrangements.

Read more about how to apologise:

But remember that refunds and replacements are worth nothing if they don’t fix the problem. Ensure that a check is kept on the number of complaints you receive about the same thing. These may require investigation – you may wish to remove an item from sale while the investigation is taking place. If a customer wants to escalate an issue, then let your team leader investigate – chances are if you have your front line support well trained and well armed with the ability to offer generous policies, it shouldn’t happen too often.

3. Be alert on social media

Don’t treat social media responses any different to a call or email in terms of your approach, but be aware it’s a public forum. So don’t fall into the trap of arguing or you will just look like a company who is more concerned with defending themselves than dealing with the problem.

Try to treat every complaint on its own rather than having prepared statements. If you can prepare a statement of apology does that mean you are already aware there’s a problem that hasn’t been resolved?

It’s not fair to ask an online complainer to remove a comment after you resolve the situation – if it happened, it happened. Only ask for something to be removed if it’s an error like confusing your company with another.

4. Be generous

Have some “freebies” up your sleeve as a way to keep customers happy. These aren’t gifts, but could be upgraded deliveries, higher value items or discount coupons. This can save the customer having to fight for what they feel they deserve and can be offered as early as your front line staff think is necessary on each call.

Having options like this can resolve problems faster and lead to more happy customers talking to happy agents – the perfect scenario. 

Read more about customer service:

However, nothing is set in stone and no two customers are the same; one will accept your apology and token of goodwill, whereas the next may not accept anything, including sending their order free of charge.

5. Be a good listener

At the start of each customer call, you’re listening for some crucial information, not just what happened but what effect it had on the customer, how it made them feel. This is what has led to them making the call, it informs how they think of you and your job is to undo this opinion.

It’s best to pick up tips and tricks in how to explain yourself better to a customer and give better customer service, but nothing prepares you for each reaction. It’s important the whole team is empowered to resolve problems in one call – as a manager, let them see all possible information, teach them how to read the system like you do and give them generous policies.

There is nothing more frustrating that having tiers of compensation that work in line with the job role. 

In the grand scheme of things, keeping your staff empowered keeps them happy, they deliver a better service – that keeps your customers happy and coming back – you aren’t spending on recruitment and training for a high staff turnover so you save money and time in the long run. It’s not difficult, so keep it simple!

Nichola Ansbro is contact centre manager for officekitten.co.uk.

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