The Power of “I’m Sorry”

As far as I recall, only once in the past year have I raised my voice. That’s right, once.  And it was at Sprint customer service. You might recall the very negative experience that I had with Sprint. What caused me to raise my voice? Customer service lying and refusing to accept responsibility. Those two things will get me upset every time; whether from a company or an individual.

I would like to let you know that Sprint finally did make it right.  But it wasn’t any of the people with whom I originally spoke. It was a different person who called me out of the blue about a different situation I was trying to resolve. Once we resolved that issue she asked if I was satisfied with Sprint. I said well, no.  And I explained why. This customer service representative did the following:

1. Asked for the information necessary to fix the problem.

2. Offered me a small discount on my bill.

3. Apologized for the inconvenience I suffered and accepted responsibility. (I will note that Sprint sort of apologized last time. But it was a sarcastic fake apology. That is worse than no apology.)

Guess which of the 3 made me happy?  I had already fixed the issue myself, and I didn’t much care about a discount. I just wanted an acknowledgement that Sprint had messed up and an apology for the inconvenience I suffered.  That’s it.

Take Responsibility

Now I am going through an experience with another company, a vendor providing a product we need on a monthly basis.  No lying this time, thankfully. Instead I am dealing with an extraordinary refusal to take responsibility. I find myself more incredulous than angry. I actually gave the executive director (with whom I had my dealings) several chances to apologize or at least recognize the inconvenience we had suffered. No go.

Fortunately, this time I don’t have a contract. So my response is to shrug and say ok, time to find a new vendor. That and to complain to the CEO of the company that supplies the vendor. Do you want to guess what the CEO of the much larger company did when I explained my concerns? Got it in one, he apologized. In fact, he did so on a Sunday, right after I sent him my email.

Here’s the thing. Companies mess up. It happens. When they do, an apology goes a long way to solving the problem and keeping the customer. As an example I’ll point you to the CEO of the company versus the executive director of the vendor.  The vendor is losing my business. The CEO isn’t, since I will just switch to a different vendor.

I’ll also point you to Jet Blue and its well worded apology from several years ago. That apology is famous. It is regarded as the apology that saved a business.

The Legal Profession

Law firms and attorneys can learn from my experience with Sprint, the current companies I am dealing with, and Jet Blue. An apology to an unhappy client not only can help you keep a client, it can actually help prevent a malpractice claim. People just want to be heard. They want their feelings to be validated. Apologizing isn’t a particularly hard thing to do; just speak two little words.

When I was at PBI I apologized if there was a problem with a seminar; even if the problem wasn’t my fault. I represented PBI, and I believed it was crucial that people felt that I understood their frustration, their upset and that I appreciated their problem, whatever it might have been. I feel that way still, as a partner in Freedman Consulting.

Why not Apologize?

Why are people afraid to apologize? Perhaps it is fear of acknowledging that s/he was wrong? Pride? Stubbornness? Arrogance? I am not sure.  In my opinion, it takes a lot more courage to simply acknowledge that you or your company made a mistake and step up and admit it than it does to be stubborn and prideful. As they say, “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverb 16:18, King James Bible.)


Don’t let pride or foolishness cost you a client, as has happened with the vendor I am dealing with now. When I was upset with Sprint, I couldn’t leave due to my contract, which will be up next summer. But you can guarantee, if no one had apologized I would have been on my way to a different carrier as soon as I could. Now, while I won’t forget what happened, I will also remember that someone took the time to apologize. And that makes all the difference.


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