The Power of Sorry

Here in Australia the word sorry has a strong meaning. An inability to apologise is part of our history.**

I am similarly noticing a real reluctance in organisations to say sorry. Sorry for messing up. Sorry our processes did not produce an outcome that meets your expectations. For providing faulty goods. For not managing the downturn.

Here are some examples.

  • When running a workshop at a local venue, I had ordered vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food. We checked prior to the day, and again as we arrived at the venue. The vegetarian food did not arrive. The venue’s staff member spent a half hour finding the documentation to prove to me that it had been ordered, rather than fixing the problem and getting us the right food.
  • An optometrist, although given three times as long as the quoted time to provide glasses, was not able to provide them before I left on a 5 week overseas holiday. I had to leave without the prescription glasses, which were necessary for the holiday. The optometrist never apologised for the delay or their mistakes. When I raised the difficulties with him later, after the holiday, he brushed me off.
  • A local telecommunications company treated us unethically and illegally for 18 months. They made contact with me only after 15 months when legal action was threatened through the ombudsman. The senior management of this company refused to apologise and it was left to a more junior staff member to provide an apology. It was not sufficient.
  • I returned a feedback form after having my car serviced. The feedback form had been sent to me by the company that serviced my car. I had not been entirely satisfied and described this on the form. They did not contact me to discuss this further or to apologise for the mistakes.
  • An insurance broker made mistakes in establishing my car insurance, leaving my car uninsured for several days. They did not contact me to talk it through.

Most of these organisations have lost or will lose my business. It is not because they made a mistake, but because of their reluctance to discuss the issues with me and to make changes so that the mistakes will not happen again. How can I be assured that it won’t happen again?

Does your organisation say sorry? Do you say sorry?

An apology puts the past behind and allows both parties to move on. This is particularly important to the client, customer or staff member, each of whom will have a long memory of the difficulties encountered – much longer than the organisation or manager will remember any incident. Apologies build trust.

Customers don’t necessarily talk to others about good service, but will tell 7 – 10 people about bad service, poor products or mishandling.  A genuine apology overcomes bad feelings and goes a long way to retaining customers and building goodwill.

Your staff will also appreciate an apology when it is due. An apology will rebuild broken relationships and strengthen your reputation as a leader and manager.

Sorry is such a small word. Why is it so difficult to say?

Can we help?

If you would like assistance with customer service, give us a call.


** In a nutshell, as part of the reconciliation process with our original inhabitants, our previous government refused to say sorry for decades. More recently, a new government has redressed this, and now our aboriginal inhabitants and our non-aboriginal inhabitants can begin to move forward.

Indra Process and Performance Consulting

All articles that appear on Indra Process and Performance Consulting’s blog are copyright Indra Process and Performance Consulting 2008.

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