While many consider “please” to be the magic word, “sorry” can be equally important, if not more important. You will have those days when nothing seems to go well and, unfortunately, some of those snafus can affect your clients.
An apology may be necessary for an ongoing problem, such as failing to contact your client as often as he or she expected, or an extraordinary situation, such as your contact-management system failing, leaving you unaware of the day’s appointments.
A well constructed, genuine apology can be all it takes to satisfy your clients and ensure your relationship remains positive.
Here are three steps to saying “sorry” the right way:
1. Don’t wait
“The best time to resolve a conflict is now,” says Jasmin Bergeron, director of the MBA program in financial services at l’Université du Québec à Montréal. “In [the client’s] mind, it usually gets worse and worse.”
You may think waiting a day or two is acceptable. But that gives your client more time to dwell on what happened and maybe even become more upset at the situation.
2. Do it in person
An apology is made better when you can discuss the situation face to face with your client.
“When you think about having that conversation in person, people can see how honest and respectful you are,” says Rosemary Smyth, owner of Rosemary Smyth and Associates in Victoria. “In person, they can really see your gestures.”
Your body language plays a part in how your client will interpret this conversation. Lean forward and maintain eye contact to indicate your sincerity, says Bill Reid, a member of Capital Toastmasters in Ottawa.
If meeting in person is difficult, follow up with a phone call. Email should be avoided, Bergeron says, as it is too impersonal for an apology,.
3. Personalize the apology
A sincere apology will not only use the word “sorry,” but will include an attempt to improve the situation. So, ask how you can make it up to the client.
Clients who hear this are more likely to be understanding and excuse the situation to human error, Bergeron says. They will also appreciate your attempt to fix the problem through actions, as opposed to words only.
If you feel the situation requires a gift, avoid generic items that could be meant for anyone. Your gesture should relate to your client’s interests so that he or she understands that your attempt to make amends is sincere.
For example, an avid golfer is probably more likely to appreciate a sleeve of golf balls than a glass vase. Your client will understand that the apology is directly intended for him or her.
Include with your gift a handwritten message that expresses your apology, how important the client’s business is to you and an invitation to call you any time, Bergeron says. This type of note is much more effective than just signing your name at the bottom of a card.