Sorry Shouldn’t Mean “Too Bad”
“The powerful words ‘I’m sorry’ shouldn’t be abused.”
The other day a buddy shared an experience he had with a company that sold him mulch for his yard. When the truck arrived, he asked the driver and his co-worker to put the mulch in the backyard. The driver said, “I’m sorry. Dropping the mulch off in the backyard is considered white-glove service. You needed to let us know you wanted the mulch in the backyard when you ordered it.” In this case, sorry had a double meaning. Maybe the driver was saying he was sorry to apologize, and at the same time, he was also saying, “Too bad. Pay more money if you want the mulch delivered an extra 50 feet to the back of the house.”
I had a similar “I’m sorry” experience checking out at a hotel. There was a $35 resort charge that I didn’t know about. I was there for three days, so that added up to $105. I asked the front desk clerk what I got for that $105. She said, “Free internet, access to the workout room and a newspaper.” Hmm…most hotels I stay at don’t charge for any of these amenities. And, she added, almost ashamed, “I’m sorry. They should have informed you about the resort fee when you made your reservation. Once again, the word sorry was more of a “too bad,” than an apology.
Lesson One: The words we use are important. If we use a phrase like “I’m sorry,” what comes after that needs to be part of the apology versus a “too bad” type of explanation. Even if it is “too bad,” the way you say it can include empathy and caring that makes the customer know you feel their disappointment.
Lesson Two: The resort fee wasn’t a big deal. However, at the heart of the issue was that I felt the hotel was “nickel and diming” me. I asked the front-desk clerk to do me a favor; first I told her that I wasn’t mad at her about the resort charge; she was just the bearer of the news. She immediately seemed to relax. Then I told her what I did for a living and asked if she would share how she felt about this situation. She told me that almost every day several guests complained about the fee. She felt she had to defend it, which made her feel uncomfortable.
When you know that your customers are regularly disappointed with a part of your process, figure out a way to eliminate that disappointment. In the case of the resort fee, it seems simple. It’s fine to charge it, but when the guest makes a reservation online, the fee should be made clear and be included on the confirmation receipt. If the reservation is made by phone, inform the guest, and in the process, “sell” the benefits of that fee. For example, “Make sure you take advantage of the workout room. You’ll love it.” Then, at check-in, go over the room rate and resort fee and “sell” it again. Make it a benefit, not an ugly surprise at the end of the trip. Isn’t that so much better than having to say, “I’m sorry!”
There are many ways to turn negatives into positives. There are many words we can use to show our customers we care. The powerful words “I’m sorry” shouldn’t be abused. They shouldn’t be part of a “too bad” explanation. They should convey empathy, care, and concern. If you have to utter those words more often than you should, figure out why—then do something about it!
Shep Hyken is a customer service expert and business author. ©MMXVII Shep Hyken.