How to Apologize to a Customer: “Sorry for the Inconvenience”
When it comes to customer service, “Sorry for the inconvenience” is hardly a legitimate apology. When working in a customer service role, it is your duty to serve the customer. Unfortunately, customers aren’t always easy to please and can be less than understanding of even small mishaps.
Disappointing a valued customer, whether your fault or not, can be disheartening and embarrassing. In a customer service role, you represent the face of the company. Therefore, when mistakes do happen you need to own responsibility for your company, without taking it personally.
Learn how to diffuse customer upsets quickly by apologizing tactfully.
Why the Phrase “Sorry for the Inconvenience” Does Not Serve as an Apology
Losing money, missing an appointment, system shutdowns, or having personal or business property damage are just a few of the things which can be classified as more than just an ‘inconvenience’.
If a client has trusted you with their time, money, reputation, or belongings and has not received the service they were promised, apologizing for an ‘inconvenience’ may seem inappropriate in proportion to their loss. Your customer is looking for the following in an apology:
- Acknowledgment of their problem
- Admitting to, and taking responsibility for the issue
- Empathy towards their situation and possible loss
- A genuine desire to fix the problem
- Solution to their problem
Apologizing for an ‘inconvenience’ does not provide the customer with any of the above. Instead, it undermines their concern.
The Importance of an Effective Customer Apology
A poor and unsympathetic apology (such as, “Sorry for the inconvenience”) risks the loss of a valued customer. Not only do you risk losing the customer at hand, but also other current and potential clients who hear about the incident. In our digital culture, it is easy for customers to express their dissatisfaction in a negative social media review or business listing.
Your customers may be influencers among social peers, business committees, and networks. The easier it is for a customer to choose one of your competitors, the more you need to nurture every client or potential client who engages with your business.
Mishaps do happen, but they can often be rectified with a tactful and empathetic apology and follow-up action. This could save your company from a negative review on social media and other online platforms.
Phrases to Avoid When Apologizing – “Sorry for the Inconvenience”
An abrupt apology can cause more damage than no apology at all. In the same way that undermining the customer’s problem can cause further harm. Statements such as, “This is not our fault” should never be used.
The phrases below are absolute no-no’s when handling customer disappointments:
- Do not compare your customer with other clients. Telling them that “everyone else is happy with the product” is only going to insinuate that you disrespect the customer and their situation.
- Do not be vague about what you are apologizing for. Never say, “I am sorry that you are upset”. State the actual mistake and apologize specifically for the incident.
- Don’t defend yourself by blaming someone else. It may not directly be your fault, but there is a tactful way to explain this. Adopting an immediate defensive response shows that you are not willing to accept responsibility. It also shows that the customer cannot count on you to assist in resolving their query.
- Do not insinuate that it is the customer’s fault. If the customer has followed an incorrect procedure, first empathize with their situation, and then politely guide them along the correct procedure.
- Do not make promises you cannot keep. If you disappoint the customer again, they will not do business with you in the future.
An Effective Approach When Apologizing to Customers
You will have to put your ego in the backseat when it comes to apologizing to a customer. Consider these aspects in formulating an effective apology:
Consider the tone with which you address the customer. A tongue-in-cheek apology is never well-received. Offer empathy in your tone of voice, and simply say you are sorry without defending yourself as part of the apology.
- Be Genuine
Put the focus on the customer and their situation. Be specific, authentic, and understanding by using phrases such as:
“I’m sorry you have to deal with this”
“I would also be upset in your situation.”
“I understand that this is important to your work function.”
“I really appreciate your patience.”
“I am sorry that you did not receive the product you ordered.”
Using a phrase such as “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” is neither specific nor understanding.
Once you have taken ownership for your, or the company’s mistake, provide a brief yet accurate explanation for what happened and a solution to rectify the problem.
This does not mean a list of excuses. Instead, provide an explanation that shows you acknowledge there was a fault in the system and that you will make a point of it to ensure it does not happen again. Be brief but be precise.
Identify that you understand the customer’s end goal and state what you intend on doing to reach that goal.
Showing them that you are responsible enough to accept the situation and take action rather than make excuses will go a long way in restoring your relationship. Showing empathy while doing so will take you a further extra mile in restoring their trust.
When possible and when warranted, seal off an effective apology by offering the customer a refund, compensation, or service credits.
Tips on How to Provide a Genuine Apology
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Placing yourself in the customer’s position allows you to identify what the real issue behind their disappointment is.
Perhaps they lost money. Perhaps they lost a business deal due to system shutdowns. Perhaps the client was embarrassed in front of his or her peers or board members which affected them professionally due to untimely service on your part.
Whether it was money lost or a delayed service, let the customer know that you empathize with their dilemma and that you are genuinely sorry. Saying “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” does not come across as a genuine concern for their loss.
Do Not Take it Personally
Being able to separate your own emotions and not taking the complaint personally will help you respond in a professional manner. If a customer gets overly angry, don’t take it personally. Do what you can to assist in a helpful, polite, and efficient manner.
Follow up with your customer after the issue has been resolved. This will score big points in showing the customer that you are truly interested in keeping their business and care about their needs and service satisfaction.
Three things are paramount to a successful apology:
- Saying sorry without excuses or blame-shifting.
- Showing empathy.
- Solving the problem.
When it comes to failed customer service, “Sorry for the inconvenience” doesn’t cut it. An apology means nothing if the problem is not solved. A simple but sincere apology accompanied by action can go a long way in restoring a customer relationship.
CustomersFirst Academy offers comprehensive customer service training designed to help you grow your skills and advance your career.
To keep learning and developing your knowledge of customer service, we highly recommend the additional resources below:
Write a Killer Customer Service Resume Objective
Write A Winning Customer Service Cover Letter
How to Conduct a Reference Check After an Interview
How to Write a Short Resignation Letter (FREE Sample)