Are You’re Service Apologies at Risk?

In Service Recovery – The Seven Step Process we outlined a method by which employees can make a gracious and effective recovery from any service failure.  Step 3 of this process is the apology.  As we say, “A sincere apology is absolutely necessary.  We the establishment and you the employee are sorry for any service failure, so we should never be shy about or slow to fully apologize.”

While it never occurred to me that employees should be taught how to apologize, I caught two items this past week – one on television and the other on the Internet – that made me realize that there are “apologies” and then there are “effective apologies.”

Here’s the detail:  Laurie Puhn, a relationship mediator, appeared on a cable news network to critique the recent apology of Steve Jobs for problems with the newest Apple iphone’s signal reception.  In her comments, Ms. Puhn said that there are four elements to an effective apology:

  1. Don’t minimize your failing or error.  Make a big deal out of it – as it is to the unhappy customer/ guest/member.  Say something like, “Mrs. Smith, I’m so sorry our slow service delayed you . . .”
  2. Apologize for the inconvenience caused.  “. . . I realize how much we have inconvenienced you and your guest.”
  3. Offer something to make amends.  “As a further apology, I won’t be charging you for your orders.”
  4. Say that you hope to have the opportunity to re-earn their trust.  “I hope you’ll come back after your tennis match so I can serve you properly.”

A few days later an Internet headline “The Perfect Apology – The ONE Word That Destroys It!” caught my eye.  I followed the link to Kate Nasser’s The People-Skills Coach.  Here’s what she had to say:

“As The People-Skills Coach, I start this post with the assumption that you are willing to take ownership of the impact your actions and words have on others. You are ready to deliver the perfect apology!

Well the perfect apology is found in simple sincerity and the ONE word that destroys it is … IF

  • I am sorry IF I hurt you.  IF?  Do you own it or not?  Do you care to rebuild my trust or not?
  • I am sorry IF that came across as …  IF?  You are aware that it came across badly so why waver?
  • We are sorry IF we have not met your business needs.  IF?   We wouldn’t be discussing it otherwise.

Your intentions don’t matter much if a team member or a customer is offended by what you have said or done. Rebuild the trust with a sincere apology as soon as you are aware of his/her reaction.



Replace IF with THAT or FOR and see the difference.

  • I am sorry THAT I hurt you.
  • I am sorry FOR the impact this had on you.
  • I am sorry THAT came across as …
  • We are sorry THAT we have not met your business needs. We will …

Why does this little change make a big difference to others? Because it is clear that you are putting their needs ahead of your pride. Simple sincerity makes for the perfect apology.”

It’s clear from these two news items that apologies may not be the simple matter we’d imagine.  When teaching your employees the Service Recovery Process, take a few extra minutes to teach them to make perfect, effective apologies.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hospitality hardworking  managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for the Hospitality Industry!

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