Sorry? Why You Should Stop Apologizing to Customers

Emilie Johnston

Do you say the “S” word too much?

If you (and your customer support team) is like most of us, the word sorry comes out of your mouth way more than it should.  For example, when’s the last time that someone bumped into you and you’re the one who apologized?

While saying “sorry” seems like the natural thing to say to a disgruntled customer, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, apologizing is most likely making the issue worse!

According to the Zendesk Benchmark study, when "sorry'' is repeated in a conversation it lowers customer satisfaction because it’s indicative of poor customer service, most likely from a lengthy back and forth conversation, which means the customer has had a lot of time to feel misunderstood and frustrated.

Here are some reasons why you should stop apologizing to your customers right now, and a few helpful suggestions on how to handle their complaints without dropping those pesky “s-bombs” anymore.

It Stirs Feelings of Revenge

Sounds like a Tarantino movie, Customer Support Team edition, huh? But believe it or not a recent study by researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Texas found that people felt more hurt and were more likely to seek revenge after receiving an apology.

The reason?

Business apologize so much that “sorry” has lost all meaning and credibility. Sometimes customer service agents apologize before they even fully understand the problem the customer’s having, making the customer feel like they’ve received an apology before they’ve even been actually heard. Add that to the fact that too many business (and people) apologize when they haven’t even done anything wrong, leaving the other party to wonder “Why are they apologizing? They must’ve done something wrong.” Which is absolutely the wrong message to send!

Customers Don’t Care About Your Apology

Customers don’t care—and probably don’t even believe that anyone is actually “sorry” -  they just want the problem fixed.

Instead of apologizing, reply with a smart question that lets them know you’ve been listening to their specific problem.  As a bonus, questions also hijack the brain into abandoning any other train of thought, so if a customer is calling you angry, asking a question in your best shot at rerouting the convo.

It Puts The Customer and Company on Unequal Ground

Saying the word “sorry” to a customer puts the customer and customer service agent on unequal footing, instead of two smart and capable people coming together to figure out a solution to a problem - now the customer service rep is the culpable party and they’re the entitled party. What does this mean? Simply put, it means that now the customer support team has to go to any and all extremes to “make it up to them.” Remember, you and your team are the experts and the customer is coming to you for help. Experts are cool, confident and capable - they don’t tuck their tail between their legs and apologize.

What should customer support do instead of apologize? How do you help the customer, without groveling and making everyone’s stomach turn in the process?

Say Thank You Instead of Sorry

According to Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.”

Gino and professor Adam Grant from Wharton measured the students’ sense of self-worth afterward, 25 percent of the group that received just an acknowledgment felt higher levels of self-worth, compared with 55 percent of the group that received thanks.

The takeaway? By swapping out “I’m sorry” for “thank you”, hostile situations can be quickly diffused and each person will feel gratitude for the other’s role in resolving the issues at hand.

When It’s OK to Say Sorry

In extreme situations, apologizing is still necessary, but the key is to know when to apologize only when it’s absolutely necessary. This preserves the meaning of “sorry” when done in the right situations and with authenticity.

Anything else just feels like cheap customer service on a 1800 hotline number.

Do you think you or your team over-apologizes? When’s the last time you said sorry for something that may have been resolved another way? We’d love to hear how many times you’ve said sorry in the comments below!

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