At Your Service: Saying sorry

If something goes wrong and an internal or external customer is impacted, the appropriate thing to do is to empathize and apologize — and do it sincerely, even if it is for something trivial or something you did not do or cause.

The inside sales coordinators at a rental store are typically on the front line and receive calls, emails and visits related to many customer requests. For example, they may receive inquiries regarding an invoice, a service request or need to reach another department in your company. Some of those customers could be upset. Even if your company did not cause or contribute to the situation, to the customer, these sales coordinators are the company and the customer is expecting some response that should include an apology.

Here are some things for you and your staff members to remember, related to saying sorry:

  • A sincere apology will go a long way in diffusing customer’s anger or disappointment. Often the customer just wants to be heard and to know that someone cares about his or her situation.
  • It is hard for a customer to stay upset when you apologize. As soon as you realize the customer has been wronged, move to the apology.
  • Avoid talking about others in your company as “them” or “they.” It accomplishes little by blaming others. Something like, “Those in billing will need to help you” can be more professionally stated with, “Our billing department will be happy to help you with that.”
  • Saying sorry works for internal customers as well. Your colleagues deserve your best and your sincere apology will go a long way to repairing and building relationships.
  • The customer is the customer. If they feel that they have been wronged or inconvenienced then apologize.

For some representatives, they feel that by saying sorry they are potentially exposing themselves to the wrath of the customer. That is not how it works. The vast majority of your customers will appreciate the recognition and move on.

Also, do not worry that by apologizing the customer will feel that they are now entitled to some compensation. That is a separate issue. If you feel the customer is deserving of something, like a discount, then offer it. You should not feel obligated to offer any form of compensation because you provided an apology.

Saying sorry helps you build relationships and move on. They apply to your internal and external customers and make everyone feel better. Do not be afraid to use them.

Barry Himmel is senior vice president for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, Ohio-based consulting company offering sales and customer service training, marketing and mystery shopping services for the equipment rental industry. He can be reached at 614-766-5101 or For more information, call 800-398-0518 or visit