Just Say You're Sorry...
This is another one of those, 'do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do' moments, because I am neither perfect nor without moments of closed-mindedness. And I can humbly thank a former customer for teaching me such a valuable lesson.
In the midst of huge snafus on the customer's account, I'd become overwhelmed with all the phone ringing and door-knocking. Sadly, he was lost in the shuffle, several times over, actually. So when his final phone call came, I swallowed my pride and explained that I understood his angst. I relayed that his treatment was not representative of the company and that he was fully justified in not wanting to do further business.
The customer had calmed down, and had become quite patient and professional during this call, but left me with something important to really think about. In closing, he said, "You forgot to say those two important words: 'I'm sorry.'"
I agreed with him, told him I was sorry, thinking in the back of mind that I was certain I had apologized. In fact, I had. Then, as I reflected on the conversation, I realized his all-important point.
As professionals, we're taught (or we learn by observing others) more business-savvy ways of saying things. Our customers, however, aren't always in-the-know, and even if some are, a personal experience will always trump a pure-business encounter.
"I apologize." It's professional and to-the-point. It's the more formal way of expressing regret. Or, is it? From a personal standpoint, no. After all, when I annoy my husband I don't say, "I apologize." I say, "I'm sorry," even if with a raised voice. When my nephews say something off-color, they say, "I'm sorry." And when I bump into someone in the mall, you got it, "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry," makes it personal. It lets the customer know that you personally feel bad about the situation. Even if you aren't responsible for the problem (and, it doesn't matter anyway, because the customer is speaking with you), those two personal words can make a world of difference.
Ever since that former customer pointed this out to me, I've had a Post-It next to my phone. It reminds me of a better way to handle people who are rightly irritated. It simply says, "I'm sorry."