Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Learn to Say Sorry

Earlier this year, I organized a loan for my new house with my usual bank. All went well, they approved it quickly and before long, I had removalists at my door.

Then the trouble began … payments not deducted, double payments deducted from the wrong accounts, inept bank employees who tried to argue with me, more double deductions … the list goes on.

After a while, I was close to giving up–even considering changing banks and organizing new loans. Then, one day I got a telephone call from one of the handful of managers who handle this bank’s business in my state.

He opened with “I owe you an apology.” I was over the moon! This manager had taken the time to phone me and say that he’d heard about my plight; he wanted to assure me they didn’t believe anyone should be treated the way I was.

Not once did he even attempt an excuse, nor blame others. Here was an executive who was in charge of dozens of bank branches and yet, he took it upon himself to call and say that he and the rest of the organization he works for were sorry.

This manager was attentive and keen to hear my views. We ended the call fifteen minutes later with him providing his cell phone number, and asking me to call if other issues arose.

We’ve all been there. A web site project goes awry or one of your team makes a mistake, and before you know it, you are metaphorically huddled under your desk, frightened that the client will call.

What your client wants to hear is “sorry.” Everyone is human and when mistakes do happen, what we all want is for our suppliers to recognize when they have erred and offer a simple apology.

It costs you nothing besides a few minutes of your time, and believe me, you’ll feel better being proactive and apologizing before the client gets a chance to be angry.

So, swallow that ego and make the call–you’ll be relieved afterwards, and your client will respect you for it.

I’m still with that bank and the service has improved. I’ve even recommended them to my colleagues, based on that manager’s one call. Wouldn’t you rather your clients do the same?

This post first appeared as part of Issue 413 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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  1. Absolutely!

    I will put up with human mistakes, but I wont put up with shabby service. Let me know you screwed up, and as long as it doesn’t happy too often I am fairly forgiving. However, leaving me hanging not knowing what’s going on, or if I have been forgotten… NOT impressed.

    It’s just manners IMHO.

  2. Oh yes – agree from me.

  3. I’ve spent years trying to imbue the same values in my kids. In fact, I believe I wrote a rant a few years back about how we’re living in the Age of Un-Accountability.

    And that’s what this World needs more of… Accountability.

    Good on ya for keeping them around too. I reckon to show that kind of voluntary humility shows some sack and that needs rewarded.

  4. One of the things I enjoy about running my own business is that I CAN be accountable, to myself and to my clients. There is such an epidemic of unaccountability, passing the buck, blaming it on the system, or the computer, or anything else, that it often feels like you’re living on a different planet than the rest of these people.

    Still, a few months ago I got a sales caller sacked for bullying. This guy was not going to take no for an answer, and became so abusive that I complained to his telesales agency and to the company he was phoning to sell advertising space for. Five years ago, the acknowledgement and apology would not have happened – they would have protected him, evaded the issue, and found some way to blame it on me. So things are changing, slowly but surely.

  5. Great post Miles! I uphold a great deal of respect for any company that can call and apologise – seems to be a rare thing in this day and age.

  6. Such wisdom out of one so young. I agree – and carry that attitude into all aspects of your life too. It deflates anger when you’re upfront and honest and say Sorry before the conflict deepens. We’ll never make it in Canberra with this attitude, but who wants to work there? >g<

  7. A great post Miles. It’s rare that a person or organisation will apologise without trying to shift the blame back onto you.

    Like Brouse, it helps to increase my respect for the organisation.

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