You can't please everyone. At some point on your professional path, you'll do something silly: offend a client, annoy a customer, give shoddy service or even be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And you'll have to apologise.
Now, this can go horribly pear-shaped and cause even more damage - or go beautifully right and earn you massive long-term loyalty. This article is about the different types of written apology and how to craft them perfectly first time around. Types of apologyType 1: the conditional apology
Not all apologies are flat-out apologies. You know this, right? Not everyone has a genuine right to lose their marbles, gooi their toys and throw a tantrum. Some people (yes, even customers) are sometimes wrong. And in that case, you use what I call the ‘conditional apology
Let's say you own a hotel. A client spends a week there and has a good time. No complaints. Except that the bathroom sink is chipped. At the end of his stay, just before he settles his bill, there's a marble-losing session and the accompanying request for a discount or ‘special extra'.
What do you do?
You issue a firm, ‘I'm very sorry, Sir, but...' and you explain that while you can't discount his stay or tack on an extra three free nights, you'd love to offer him a complimentary bottle of wine. You see, the compensation should be proportional to the error and you're well within your rights - if a complainant makes an unreasonable request - to apologise conditionally and move on.Type 2: the cover-your-back apology
Then there's the situation in which a colleague or manager does something wrong, and you're the person who has to handle it. You may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the slight, but now it's your baby and it's screaming the house down. Enter: the ‘cover-your-back apology
In this case, the sad truth is that you have to apologise and you have to do it without assigning blame, hinting at internal discord or shifting the responsibility sideways or upwards. You have to pretend that everyone's error is your personal error and appear genuinely, sincerely, deeply sorry. You can chase up the miscreant in the background, but keep it away from the public.Type 3: the flat-out apology
Let's say something's gone wrong. Big-time. You've missed an important deadline, lost customer data, cost a client money, or made a bad decision. You're really sorry. And you need to make good. Fast. This is when you issue what I call the ‘flat-out apology
'. Here's how...
In terms of actual content, a proper flat-out apology should always include the following:Tiffany's ‘sorry sandwich'
So now you're clear on content; on what actually goes into your ‘Sorry' letter or email. But how do you structure it? Do you launch straight in... or do you prepare the ground a little first?
Well, research shows that good news should appear in positions of high emphasis; ie in the beginning and/or at the end of a message, while bad news should take a position of secondary emphasis; in other words, in the middle of a message. Imagine a sandwich, a bagel or a hamburger, with the nice soft stuff on top and bottom and the meaty main stuff in the centre.
This is my ‘sorry sandwich': a simple way to build your written apology so that it gets through.
- The top slice - your intro, where you say something nice like, ‘At Sophie's Solutions, we pride ourselves on making our clients happy. And you're a particularly valued client, who's been with us over five years [or whatever the case may be]. But it seems we got it wrong this time...'
- The filling - your apology, based on the flat-out formula above.
- The bottom slice - your close, where you remind the person that this is not normally how you operate, and reassure them that you will take steps to prevent similar occurrences in future, perhaps by altering your systems, monitoring your service, providing additional training, etc.
A nice touch: Before things are resolved, while you're still investigating the intricacies of the issue, send the person an email that says something like, ‘Just a quick note to let you know that I'm looking into this matter. I'm so sorry to hear that you've not been getting the service you deserve. Please know that I will deal with this with the utmost urgency and get back to you.'Just to entertain you...
No matter where I am or how acclaimed the service experience promises to be, one startling revelation hits me again and again: some people should not be serving other human beings. ‘John' is one such individual. Have a look at how his apologies go hideously wrong...
When we arrived at your lodge for check-in, there was no-one around. We walked through the restaurant and bar area, even visiting the toilet before we saw anyone. We were then checked in by the barman, who read the activities, meal times, generator times, etc, off a piece of paper.
Yes, well, we did not know exactly when to expect you and the rest of the lodge guests were off on the sun-downer safari. Remember: you are in the bush and not at a busy city hotel.
Our butler led us to our room, unlocked it and after a quick ‘There's nothing to show you; enjoy your stay', he disappeared. He never showed us the coffee facilities, how to use the air-con, etc.
He probably saw that he was dealing with clever people, so he knew you'd be able to recognise a kettle and an air-con remote, and know how to press red for on and + or - for hot and cold.
There were cobwebs in our bathroom.
This is Africa. Spiders can do their job in an hour. If we spray insecticide all over the place, how environmentally friendly will that be?
What a beaut.
Use my advice to ensure you don't come across like this fellow. ‘Cos if you do, sorry for you.