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Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word – The Value of an Honest Apology in Complaint Management

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word – The Value of an Honest Apology in Complaint Management


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Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word – The Value of an Honest Apology in Complaint Management

9 Aug 2021

Eric Brown
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Recent research by the UK Institute of Customer Service found that customers are becoming increasingly fed-up with being told that COVID-19 is the reason they’re receiving poor service. While many customers were initially willing to accept that delays in deliveries or extended hold times on phone calls were understandable due to the unprecedented challenges posed by the global pandemic, as time ticks on, it’s no longer seen as an acceptable excuse for every problem that customers experience.

Considering that complaints about poor service are at their highest level since 2009, customers clearly aren’t happy. And the willingness of firms to shift the blame onto COVID-19 seems to be fanning the flames of discontent further still.

A Sincere Apology

Undoubtedly, the effects of the pandemic have had a dramatic impact on customer service levels, with some businesses coping more admirably than others, but there needs to come a time when businesses hold their hands up and simply apologize if they’ve got things wrong. In fact, there’s a significant business case for doing just that, with recent research showing that a straightforward ‘I’m sorry’ in response to a complaint increases customer retention rates by 17%. And, if businesses do say they’re sorry, customers are four times more likely to become an advocate for that business.

Managing the End-to-End Customer Journey

So why aren’t more businesses admitting responsibility when things do go wrong? First and foremost, a lack of information could be to blame. A true apology depends on having the full details about what exactly it is you’re apologizing for. Without access to a full case history or a record of every interaction a customer has had with your business, it’s very difficult for individual complaint handlers to get to grips with the entirety of that particular customer’s journey. What’s needed is a comprehensive record of every customer interaction, available on-demand to your frontline team. It’s this factual record that serves to inform robust reasoning behind any problems in service, rather than leaving a call handler to rely on the default position of blaming the global pandemic for anything that’s not business-as-usual.

This insight into the entire customer journey also helps to manage customer expectations. If your complaint handlers can see what has and hasn’t already been done to resolve a complaint, they’re well-placed to provide an actual update on not only why something has happened, but how long it will take to resolve. Again, rather than rely on a default position, the ability to provide factual updates to customers goes a long way to achieving successful resolutions, even if the business is entirely to blame.

It’s Good to Apologize

This needs to run parallel with a culture where it’s ok to say sorry. A sincere, heartfelt apology certainly shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness by a business. In fact, it’s the complete opposite, demonstrating that you realize you could do better and are able to empathize with that customer’s complaint. At the same time, you must empower your frontline employees to say sorry, not just ‘we apologize for any inconvenience’ but a direct ‘I’m sorry’. Only then does it have the most impact, making customers feel understood, listened to and, most important of all, valued.

The majority of customers understand that things can and do go wrong but they also need to know that their grievances are being taken seriously. By looking for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ excuse for any lapses in customer service, you are doing your business a disservice, further alienating already disgruntled customers. By equipping staff with the tools to enable a comprehensive view of the entire customer journey, in combination with the ability to offer an unscripted apology, you can go a long way to restoring customer confidence, creating loyal customers in the process.

When it comes to delivering great customer experience during the complaints handling process, implementing a robust complaint management system can change the game. Advanced systems provide comprehensive insight into every customer interaction, helping your business successfully navigate every step of the customer complaint process. And ultimately, deliver the right outcomes for you and your customers.

To find out how Aptean’s world-class complaint management system can help you boost customer loyalty while simplifying complaint handling processes, get in touch with our expert team today.

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