You may recall I raised a few objections when Austin Vision Center, our neighborhood optical store,
repeatedly botched my order for bifocals. The saga dragged on, letters were written, phone calls were exchanged, voices were raised.
“All I want is an apology,” I told Max or Dennis or whoever called me one day. “Nobody’s even apologized to me.”
“I already said I was sorry when you answered the phone,” Max/Dennis said. “I guess you didn’t hear me.” (Oh, yeah, my bad. It wasn’t like he was going to arouse himself to apologize a second time if I hadn’t heard him mutter the first.)
Anyway, since I was so unhappy, Max/Dennis said, the store wanted to offer me 10 percent off my bill. I said OK to the 10 percent, but told him they could forget about taking my glasses back for transition lenses. I was tired of waiting, I was tired of incompetent service, I just wanted my money back.
Max quoted a sum and said the check would be in the mail. When it arrived three days later, it was for a smaller amount. I objected. The store’s bookkeeper called me back.
“This isn’t what I’m owed,” I said.
“I see,” she said. “You thought you were owed more.”
“No, I was told I was owed more.”
This went on for several boring minutes, until she said she’d send a check for the amount I thought I was owed and I said I’d cash the check, since I had been told I was owed the amount. We were talking about a grand total of maybe $35, but by that time, I was prepared to climb mountain ranges and swim drainage ditches to get what had come to represent my fair share of the American dream.
The check came and it didn’t bounce, but I still felt like the Big Lebowski: In the midst of some dumb controversy, a principle had been violated. The Dude just wanted his rug back and I just wanted an apology, but instead, everybody was pissing all over the place, which kind of ruined the mood.
So, since no one else seems to know a damned thing about a good apology, it’s left up to me — a Southern female of a certain age and therefore an accomplished apologizer — to lay down a few rules for saying you’re sorry:
1) Make it sincere and heartfelt. No sarcasm, no offhandedness.
2) Keep it personal and take responsibility for what’s happened. Anybody saying, “Mistakes were made” will get his or her mouth washed out with soap.
3) Repeat as often as necessary.
4) Do not qualify with “If you were offended … ” I think it’s safe to assume somebody’s offended.
5) Realize that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was a bad line in an old book. The truth is, love means having to say you’re sorry all the time — and business apologies should occur at an even higher rate.
6) You can relax, once you’ve delivered a good apology. After all, you may have screwed up, but you’ve done what you could to rectify the matter.
What’s funny to me is that this is all so easy to do, it’s the right thing to do, and it’s good business to do it. Why is that so hard for these knuckleheads to learn?
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)