Does Saying “I’m Sorry” Excuse Bad Customer Service?

poor serviceI’m nervously watching my texts and the clock. The hair and makeup artist who came highly recommended is over 20 minutes late. I need to leave the house in 50 minutes to make the video shoot or I’ll lose my studio time. She’s texting me updates about traffic and her estimated arrival time, but I’m still worried about getting downtown at rush hour.

She arrives, apologizes for being late, takes her time to get set up, and we finally get started 25 minutes later than agreed. She calmly says she can easily meet the deadline and not to worry. I feel better and trust her to deliver as promised.

She progresses at a snail’s pace and I notice there are only 10 minutes left before I planned to leave. She says she’s sorry – again. My hair looks bad and she hasn’t even started the makeup. I tell her that we have to wrap up so I can get to my appointment. She tries to speed up, but takes another 20 minutes. Again, she says she’s sorry.

Time is up. I absolutely have to leave right now. My hair looks terrible, my eye makeup is way too dark for daytime, and I’m completely unhappy with the person who was referred to me. I ask if I can pay by credit card to save time. She responds that she needs to add a 3% fee to cover the merchant charges with any credit card purchase.

At this point I’m so frustrated with her that I just want her to leave my house so I can get to my appointment. I tell her that I’m unhappy with the whole service, but she seems indifferent. She doesn’t do anything to make things right other than to say I’m sorry yet one more time. By now, I’m just sick of hearing her apologize – like that makes up for bad customer service. Even a discount on the bill or waiving the 3% credit card fee would have been a nice gesture. Nothing.

As she is slowly wrapping up, she hands me my curling iron and some hairspray and says the videographer will give me time to touch up before he starts. Not sure why she assumes that. She again says she’s sorry. She proceeds to say that next time she works with me, things will be better. Seriously? Did she think I’d ever want to work with her again after she was 1) late, 2) slow, and 3) not very good?

The worst part … I think she honestly felt that apologizing excused all her errors (being late, slow, and not very good)! While good customer service starts with an apology, that’s not enough these days. Businesses have to make things right. She completely missed that opportunity by far.   Too bad since I have a huge network of Denver women that need hair and makeup done on a frequent basis. I was hoping she would be outstanding so I could refer her, but she wasn’t. She just didn’t get it.

In my own life and business, I’ve unintentionally messed up – lots! But when this happens, I own the mistake and make it right. I have many examples as a landlord where I could have provided better customer service. One time, my plumber failed to lock someone’s apartment door after doing service work. When the resident came home, she was red hot mad! I mean so completely on fire that nothing seems to make her happy. I did the most outrageous thing I could do to make her happy – offer to refund her entire month’s rent for that mistake. Even though I wasn’t the person who failed to lock the door, I was responsible. It was my job to make it right. That was a costly decision for me at first, but it paid off.

My ability to fix the situation converted her into a 10 year tenant. She renewed year after year and also brought me lots of new renters to fill my vacant apartments.  She stayed until she was just too old to maintain an apartment on her own and needed to move into a retirement community.

I learned two big lessons from that landlord experience. First, it’s critical to take care of your new and existing customers. Make sure they know they matter and do whatever it takes to make them happy. Second, referrals count. When you make a referral, ensure that person will deliver as expected or better. If she doesn’t, it reflects poorly on you since your name is associated with the referral. When you are the one being referred, go above and beyond to make the person who referred you proud. It matters!

I drove like a mad women and made it to the studio two minutes early. There wasn’t time to touch up my hair, so I had to go as is. While this wasn’t ideal, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

When I got home, I sent an email to the person who referred the hair and makeup artist and explained the experience fell far below my expectations. I told her I wouldn’t put a bad review on social media since reviews are permanent, but I wanted her to know so she could address it with her referral and make it right. Well, I’d hope the makeup artist would contact me to make me happy, but she didn’t. I won’t ever use her again.  Please don’t let this happen in YOUR business!  One bad experience can cost you many potential customers.


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Nancy Gaines

Nancy Gaines is CEO/Founder of Gain Advantages Inc. and has been advising small businesses and Fortune 100 companies how to increase revenues through proven systems for almost two decades. She is a best-selling author and international keynote speaker. Nancy has been named in the Top 100 Productivity Experts to follow on Twitter and has a global podcast downloaded in over 95 countries. Her main focus is creating business processes with actionable steps so her clients achieve more consistency, ease, and ultimate success.