How To Make An Apology

I was never on the receiving end of severe dressing downs from management in my sales youth. Yet I did partake in several raging ding-dongs with them.

One surrounded the fall-out from a key meeting, cancelled clientside. Our ‘champion’ hadn’t quite been able to execute our plan for progression. I voluntarily took the rap with his boss. My thinking was it’d help my champ to save face, cement our comradeship and show his boss what a good egg I was.

My line manager at that time was at the polar opposite on this.

Never take the blame for something you didn’t cause is of course sound advice. Whilst I did indeed learn to do things differently as a result, my boss (as none of them ever have been) was not overall more right than me.

Many moons ago I suffered fake sorry suspicion with the saying, “What does sorry mean? It means I know I did wrong and I won’t do it again”. In the time after, I thought there was merit in building upon this. What was missing was an extra line. Something like, “And I’m now going to make things better”.

So there I was in a restaurant. I go there a lot and always enjoy my banter with the lady that owns it. It happens to be one of my favourite eateries. The wheels this time though had fallen off big style.

The staff were unrepentant. Anyone not appreciating their efforts were not welcome back. It was incredible.

Although this was a retail experience, I immediately pondered how apologies affected a b2b relationship.

I leave to one side what qualifies for situations that require an apology. I’m thinking more of when you realise a boo-boo has occurred.

In my steakhouse scenario, a touch of empathy would have gone a long way. A small consideration to the final bill would have gone even further.

As part of my sales knowledge management drive, around a decade ago I attended a huge sales conference where the (objectionable) CEO told the gathered throng that they were bound to mess up. It wasn’t about how badly they’d do so, it was rather how they acted to fix it that ultimately counted.

Isn’t it interesting how many friends tell you stories of how bad service was made better, with glowing plaudits for the originally wrong-doing, on seemingly more occasions than they provide straightforward testimonials?

As my subconscious cogged along on all this, I heard a Valentine’s Day talk radio slot. A Relate (the old Marriage Guidance service) expert pitched her ‘4 As of the apology‘;

Apology – Accept – Acknowledge – Amends

The UK government also issue guidelines on this knotty one, as Principles For Remedy. For them, an apology means:

  • acknowledging the failure
  • accepting responsibility for it
  • explaining clearly why the failure happened
  • expressing sincere regret for any resulting injustice or hardship

Crucially, they further suggest “Putting things right“;

  • return them to the position they would have been in if the maladministration or poor service had not happened, if possible
  • compensate them appropriately, if that is not possible
  • an apology, explanation, and acknowledgement of responsibility
  • remedial action, which may include reviewing or changing a decision on the service given to an individual complainant; revising published material; revising procedures to prevent the same thing happening again; training or supervising staff; or any combination of these
  • financial compensation for direct or indirect financial loss, loss of opportunity, inconvenience, distress, or any combination of these

It is this remedial action that I feel is so vital. And in my experience, so neglected by internal sales leadership. All too often things drift. They fester. Their toxin poisons relationships, deals and of course, results.

Not only is there usually no policy for such circumstances, there’s the non-apology apology to mushroom disaster ever worse. If you catch yourself hearing “mistakes were made” and seeing the sloping shoulder of culpability avoidance, allied to zero remedy efforts, then perhaps it’s time to see things from the clients view, or indeed that of your future quota.

In any case, it is the quick action to sort things out that make the difference. It can turn your apparently terminal problem into the start of a long and fruitful partnership.

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