Is saying, “I’m sorry” enough?

Mistakes happen. No matter how experienced, competent, or efficient the organization, at one time or another every business makes a mistake – some more frequently than others that they become quite good at with flower2

I was always taught that when a problem occurs, it’s important to admit it right away… to take responsibility for the faux pas.

The baseball on the living room floor and the broken window make it hard for the kid on the front porch holding the baseball bat to deny he had any responsibility. But it’s a whole lot easier to forgive him if he stands there with tears in his eyes saying, “Mr. Effron, I am so sorry. I didn’t know I could hit a baseball that far. Can I help you clean it up?”

In life as in business things happen. Things don’t work the way you or your customer would have preferred, and your customer is disappointed. I learned a long time ago that “it’s not what happens that matters, but what you do about it.”

In other words, when something goes wrong and the company jumps in without hesitation to fix it or make it right, that makes a positive and lasting impression on the client or customer. He tells his friends, “They made a mistake, but fixed it. No kidding, within two hours to get us back up and running.”

Now that doesn’t mean that I recommend that you become proactive about making mistakes and go out of your way to make them so that you can rectify them in an attempt to look good. But when they do happen, going the extra mile surely pays off.

I’m sure each of us has been in a situation where we didn’t feel that we got what we paid for or that the company didn’t do what they said they would. And I’m sure each of us has, at some time, pointed that shortcoming out to the business. (Actually, “at some time” doesn’t quite describe me. I’m an “all the time” kind-of-a-guy. When something goes wrong, I make sure to tell them just to see what they will do.)

And each of us following a bad experience with a business has heard, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes that “I’m sorry” seems like empty words that the clerk or manager is programmed to parrot. At other times, it sounds sincere – in that the person responsible for the mistake is willing to face the music.

Said with sincerity helps, of course. And when the manager comes over to extend the “I’m sorry,” that also goes a long way.

Sometimes, it’s not necessary to say, “I’m sorry.” For example, one of the best responses occurred in a restaurant not long ago. The waitress brought an order to the table and immediately realized that it was incorrect. She didn’t apologize but instantly said, “That’s not right. I’ll be right back.” She covered up for the kitchen’s mistake by handling the mistake before we had pointed it out and she took instant action to fix the order. When she checked in with us toward the end of the meal, that’s when she apologized and offered us a slice of cheesecake “to make up for it.”

Depending on the situation and the mistake I like it when that “I’m sorry” is accompanied by an effort to “make it up” by doing something extra. A small gift… a refund… a free dessert (the cherry cheesecake was delicious)… or an adjustment to the bill (downward, of course) all help.

I’m sorry if I’ve been rambling a bit in this post. I think whether or not an “I’m sorry” is sufficient in and of itself or needs to be accompanied by some concession depends on dozens of factors.

In the end, the mistake, the customer, the severity of the problem, and so on tell you exactly what the best and most appropriate response should be, probably the best thing is to teach and empower employees to handle each mistake spontaneously and with sincerity.

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