Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Business-World Apologies

You've heard non-apology "apologies":  "If anyone was offended by what happened, then I want you all to know that was never the intention, and this has been over-exaggerated." 

Somehow, being in the Church, I always figured that apologizing meant that a person was taking the blame: "My fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault."

And then you get out in the world.

Something came through at work recently.  We weren't exactly told to read it.  But it was made available, just like other materials, and proposed as suggested reading that would help us deal with customers.  The title was "Help Your Employees Learn to Apologize."  I was stunned.  An apology is NOT "accepting blame."  An apology IS "acknowledging the client's feelings."

So when I'm in a store and they're apologizing to me, it's not my imagination that I sense they're not really apologizing.

At least there are some places that
consider an apology something more 
than mere empathy.


  1. In many cases, they're teaching this because a person who is being completely unreasonable- and even mean- to an employee will frequently back down when given an apology.

    It's really hard to tell someone you're sorry when they're angry at you personally because of something you don't control, aren't responsible for, and is actually the fault of the person screaming at you right now.

    If employees only apologized for things that they were responsible for or could take responsibility for, there would be fewer apologies and more people getting burned out of service jobs because of the abuse they would take.

    I've had to apologize to people who were angry because they were three hours late for an appointment, got caught sneaking into a movie, and the book that they ordered took half the time I had told them it would take to arrive instead of being there the next day (and I thought they'd be as delighted as I was that it was there early!).

    I've apologized to someone who was publicly intoxicated for having to tell them that they needed to have someone drive them home because they were disrupting the people around them (and I sincerely apologized to the people around for having to hear me deal with the guy).

    I've also had to apologize for my sincere apologies not being groveling enough.

    There is absolutely no way for people in customer-facing jobs to win.

  2. So what you're talking about isn't an apology then.

    Okay, so what this article is saying is that sometimes It's The Customer's Fault But We're Going To Apologize Anyway.

    I guess I heard this article as a cop-out for when the company actually made a mistake. Then I want somebody to help me fix it, and I think it's decent for someone from the company to apologize (even if the person apologizing isn't apologizing on their own behalf).

  3. Rushie says, "Don't apologize."


  4. Stuff like the first article you linked is definitely more about managing PR with unreasonably upset people. The second one is more about what to do when actual problems arise.

    The thing is... in all my years of customer service, there have been far, far fewer times when a real apology is called for because of a screwup on the company/employee end.

    Not because there are no mistakes, but because there are more people in the world who throw around the blame for their own actions than there are company mistakes.

    Thinking back, of all the people who came to me Extremely Upset And Angry, maybe- maybe- a tenth had valid complaints that required fixing and a totally sincere apology. The rest were just mean and nitpicky people.

  5. I have to "apologize" to our client all the time concerning things that aren't our fault and never could be our fault - but I have to do it, because it's a way of showing the client that we care and are working on the problem.

    I, personally, don't call it and apology - but that's what the companies consider it.

    On the other hand, when I actually do something wrong, I give real apologies. It kind of stinks, though, because there's no such thing as forgiveness in the business world. REAL apologies are taken as a confession of fault that needs to be punished or dealt with in some other way.

    It's why nobody actually ever apologizes. It's why it's okay to give "fake" apologies for things that don't matter, but when things DO matter and an accident or unfortunate action has occurred, there's constantly talk about how to spin it in one's favor. I've been privy to those conversations, too. Bleugh.

    In any case- if a company actually makes a mistake, they are probably not going to apologize for it. They'll deny it.

    Mostly, I think all of this stuff is for legal reasons more than anything else.


  6. LOL, Nathan. "We care about you - for insurance purposes. . ."

    Jane S.