Who’s Sorry Now? Nobody

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)

7 comments… add one
  • Darn it! Now I keep hearing Connie Francis singing “Who’s Sorry Now” all through the grand concourse of my mind. And I don’t think she will hush until I plunk down 99¢ for an MP3 recording of it at Amazon.com. I always fight fire with fire– and 99¢.
    Unlike you, dear tormented Ruth, I had a great experience over the weekend, receiving many “I’m sorrys” and “Thank yous.” I had ordered a gift from a company named Baudville. It was delivered on Friday by UPS– and taken away Friday by UPS, who left a form on my door stating the sender required a signature before the package could be left. I was not at home then, and am rarely home during the hours UPS might deem to make a delivery. I emailed a note to the on-line business late Monday afternoon stating the apparent hopelessness of my ever receiving said package and could I count on Baudville for any delivery assistance? Within 2 minutes I received a reply from Brenda, Customer Service Manager. Immediately, she stated how sorry she was about the delivery foul-up. I was thanked for my initial order, and was told she would contact UPS herself. They do NOT require a signature for delivery and she would see to it that UPS would leave the package on my doorstep on Tuesday. I quickly sent her a thank you email for her–and Baudville’s– prompt resolution to my dilemma. Brenda then followed through with a thank-you for my thank-you and again saying she was sorry for the shipper’s error. Within the next thirty minutes I received TWO phone calls from employees at Baudville saying they were sorry for the shipping ordeal and thanking me for bringing it to their attention. The package was indeed left on my doorstep Tuesday. I sent an email telling Customer Service I did receive delivery, and praised everyone there for giving me prompt and very courteous service! That was customer service like I have never experienced in the 21st century. My gift order was only $20.22 including shipping, but apparently I mattered because I was a customer, not because of the amount I was spending. Refreshing!
    Too bad Baudville hasn’t expanded into the eyewear business– or into every business!

  • Steve Link

    I have tried to teach my children that apologies are free, costing only a little pride, a highly overvalued commodity, and that the communication should be free of explantion, rationalization, or justification, all of which may follow–or in some circumstances precede–the apology, but should never be part of an apology.

  • Duly noted! Am trying to get better about giving AND receiving an apology with grace.

  • great tips on how to apologize properly. many of our politicians and other public figures need to take note.

  • Amen! People who cannot apologize or who only go through the motions are flawed … seriously flawed (or just @#$@# immature and self-absorbed, but that could just be me getting on my high horse).

  • Some people would rather gouge their eyeballs out than come out with an apology. It’s amazing how easy it is to apologize and how a little apology goes such a long way. Why a lot of people don’t “get’ this is beyond me.

  • Couldn’t agree more, but let me add my big pet peeve, those over-the-phone support techs who’ve been trained to reply to your every sentence with an infuriating “I’m sorry for your inconvenience.” It totally corrupts the idea of being sorry, since they aren’t at all sorry, not to mention responsible for your problem.

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