Tuesday August 20, 2013

Never Stop at "I'm Sorry"

hand-written restaurant coupon that says I'm sorry

I just had a lunch at a favorite food joint near my office. A place I’ve regularly recommended to friends and family.

Today, the food was so-so.

As I was leaving, one of the waitresses asked, “How was everything guys?”. I figured I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and share my disappointment. “It was okay. The meat was chewy. Normally it’s falling apart and juicy. Today not so much.”

She looked a bit caught off guard. I imagine she figured I’d just reply with something like, “It was great” or “love that bacon stuff!”

After a slight pause she replied with an awkward, “I’m sorry…” that sort of trailed off.

And that was it. No further attempt to get more feedback. No attempt to compensate me for the mediocre food. No attempt to delight me or entice me to give it another shot in the future. Just “I’m sorry”.

Imagine if she had said,

“Hold on, I want to try and make that right”, then pulled out some note paper, scribbled a custom coupon for a “Combo and a Beer ON THE HOUSE” and then signed her name? “Please come back and give it another try- I’ll pass along your feedback to our chef and his team”.

Or how about this,”

Oooh, that’s not good. I will pass that feedback on to my chef. In the meantime, can I get you another dish or desert to take home with you? It’s on the house.”

Or how bout this,

“That’s no good hon. Hold on just a moment- I’m not going to let you pay for a mediocre meal. You’ll have to try us again. We must have had an off-day, because that steak is normally a favorite of mine.”

Never respond to negative customer feedback with just an “I’m sorry”.

A lone “I’m Sorry” actually sends the wrong message
What the customer really hears is, “That’s weird, everyone else seems to like it”. It’s a message that alienates the customer.

If the customer thinks they’re the weird one, they’ll likely not come back. They’re also not going to recommend the place. If their friends are similar to them, why would they chance their friends having an experience like theirs?

Huge missed opportunity
What do you think the outcome would have been if the waitress had actually used one of my responses above?

Would my delight have been worth the cost to the restaurant?

How likely would I be to promote the restaurant next time a friend asked for a recommendation?

How many times over the life of the restaurant would I have likely returned for more?

Customer feedback is a gift
Let’s face it, it’s rare that customers will actually give candid feedback in real time. Most just hide their disappointment because they don’t want to be seen as a complainer. Consequently many service businesses languish due to a lack of self-awareness. They never fully realize their potential because they never fully captivate their customers.

Any time a customer gives critical feedback while still inside your business, they should be celebrated and rewarded. In the case of my lunch story, I took a risk. I didn’t know how the waitress would respond. I already worried a bit I was just “complaining”. The feedback is a gift. I went out on a limb to offer it. It should be treated with care.

An axiom for all service businesses

Never, I mean never, end a customer experience with simply an “I’m sorry”.


Chris Nordyke is an integrated marketer and strategy consultant. He works with owners and senior business leaders to transform and grow service companies via a unique holistic approach that drives referral business and client retention. Click here to schedule a complimentary consult with Chris.


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