The Power of a Sincere Apology

Banks spend significant time and money handling customer complaints while often overlooking a simple behavior we all learned as kids—a sincere apology.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, How to Keep Your Cool in Angry Times, states that 70% of customers wanted an apology in response to their complaint, but only 24% said they got an apology.  What kind of customer experience are companies providing when only 24% offer an apology to a customer when they complain? 

An article on The University of Michigan Health System describes how they used, where appropriate, a sincere apology to lower medical malpractice claims.  Doctors, lawyers and hospital administrators are concerned that apologizing equals admitting fault and that it would be used against them in malpractice suites.  As it turns out, malpractice suits are not always about the money.  When patients involved in malpractice suits were asked what could have prevented legal action, 37% responded that an explanation and an apology would have been enough to avert the suit.  24% of patients that filed malpractice suits did so after they found out that their doctor had not been completely honest with them.  After implementing a process that allowed doctors to apologize, malpractice suits dropped from 136 in 1999 to 61 in 2006.  Additionally, the average time to process a claim dropped from 20.3 months to 8 months, total insurance reserves dropped by more than two-thirds and the average cost of litigation for the remaining malpractice suits was cut in half.  If that wasn’t enough benefit, 55% of doctors said that the new process was a significant reason why they stayed at the University of Michigan.  How about that for a win-win?

In the video below, Tom Peters, author of the business classic In Search of Excellence, and more recently The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE, says “this is my great gripe with business schools…we teach accounting and we teach marketing and we teach everything except what’s important.  What about a whole course on apologizing?  You may say it’s absurd.  I say:  See, my point is, it is the stuff like learning how to apologize effectively that is the real essence of strategic strength. Strategic strength.  It is not a tactic.  It’s a strategic strength.”

Is this a strategic strength at your branch or call center?  Have your tellers, new account reps and call center reps been trained on how to deliver a sincere apology?  How about when management makes a mistake, do they admit it and apologize?  Apologies need to be part of the culture. To provide a great customer experience that says “I’m sorry” needs to become a strategy, not an afterthought.

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Tom Peters on the apology as a strategic strength:



Related Prime Performance Article:

The Science of Apologies