I apologize. I apologize. I apologize. I apologize. I apologize. I apologize. Well, you get the idea.
Isn't it interesting how much impact an apology can make. A sincere apology can go a long way towards soothing hurt feelings and in repairing strained relationships. But isn't it also interesting how apologies quickly go down in value and perhaps have a negative effect the more it is used.
I was reminded of this by an article in yesterday's Houston Chronicle. Columnist Ken Hoffman wrote News flash: Airline says, 'We're sorry' a column about receiving an unexpected apology from an airline for a delayed flight.
Ken's recent flight back to Houston was delayed more than an hour with no explanation or apology given on the plane. When he did get home there was an email from the airline apologizing for the delay and inconvenience. An apology from an airline is refreshing if for no other reason than its rarity. However, he does not with some apparent frustration that the airline still didn't explain why the flight was delayed.
No doubt we've all been in an identical situation. An everyday seemingly straight forward process goes awry resulting in frustration only made worse by no apology or even worse by a bad or insincere apology. Now extrapolate this experience to what our IT users go through when the network goes down, the email server crashes or we take the system down mid-day for maintenance. We resolve the situation and issue the standard "we apologize for any inconvenience" email. If you listen closely you can almost hear the grinding of teeth and the growls of frustrations from our users.
Some tips on how to apologize for a problem when you do face this situation:
- Take responsibility - admit that the problem was your responsibility and that you are aware of the difficulties is caused
- Give an explanation not an excuse - factually explain what happened but don't phrase it as an excuse or in a way the makes it appear that you are implying it wasn't really your fault
- Sincerely show your regret - be sincere. Come right out and say you are sorry.
- Make amends - if possible, fix the damage that the problem may have caused. For example, if users have to work late or on the weekend to enter or re-enter data make sure that the IT folks are there too to help out.
- Don't delay the apology - apologize as quickly as possible. Waiting too long merely makes it insincere and counter-productive.
- Learn from the situation and explain what you will do to prevent it from happening again - let your users know that you are taking steps to prevent a re-occurrence. If you can let them know exactly what you will be doing. The intent is not to avoid the embarrassment of have to apologize yet again but rather to avoid letting down those that depend on you.
It's this last point that is perhaps the most important but often gets us into deeper trouble when we fail to do it. When we fail to take permanent corrective action or fail to let our users know what we have done or will do, it erodes their confidence in us as service providers. If we don't permanently fix the problem there is a good chance we'll end up apologizing again and again adding to the frustrations of our users.
On a day-in, day-out basis to most people IT is a utility the same as the electric company or even an airline. As much as they would like us to be perfect our users are realistic and know that problems will occur. When a problem does occur what they really want is for us to fix it as quickly as possible and want to be confident that we will do what is necessary to prevent re-occurrence because we know, understand and care about what these problems do to them. They appreciate hearing us say we are sorry for the inconvenience but what they really care about is getting the problem fixed permanently. When needed, a sincere apology complete with permanent corrective action can go a long way with our users.
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