Selling Means Never Having To Say I’m Sorry: How to Apologize

Capitulation is a really fun word to say, but it is not so fun to do. That’s often what an apology is; a surrender to the blame. That’s what we’re trained to do as salespeople; make the customer feel like they are always right (even when they are not). The more we say ‘I’m sorry’, the less confrontational we appear and the more people will like us, right? Are you really doing right by the company and the customer, or are you a professional pushover? When it comes to sales, you have to be very careful with your apologies because if you don’t use caution, you can give the customer more than they should have and set a precedent for future interactions.


Apologies can, and usually are, an admission of guilt when they are not worded properly. When an error occurs in the customer process, service or experience, you never want to admit guilt until the matter is fully investigated or gross negligence on behalf of the company is easily identified. For example, if a customer’s item arrives late, saying you’re sorry can be taken as an admission of guilt. ‘I’m sorry that our package didn’t arrive on time.’ makes it sound like you’re at fault, and maybe you are. But before you conclude this, did the customer give you the proper address?  Was there an error made by the delivery service? Did the package arrive and the customer didn’t notice right away? These are all common issues that can occur, but if the blame has been assigned or accepted too soon, it may be too late to reverse this. 


But apologies can also express empathy and, despite who is at fault, it can let the customer know that you are feeling what they are feeling. No matter how we apologize, our hope is always that it will deescalate the situation. Empathetic apologies can be very effective so long as they are not excessive. So, if you find yourself in a situation where an apology will help to calm the matter, but you are not ready to accept the blame yet, use an empathetic apology instead of a guilt apology. Remember, an empathetic apology acknowledges what someone feels and not what they perceive as facts.


Here is an example where a salesperson responds to a customer who states that the company’s customer service response time was unacceptable:


Guilt: “I am sorry that we didn’t get back to you in a timely manner.” This instantly accepts the blame. What were the expectations for the response time? Sometimes a customer wants an answer in an hour but you cannot get the information until the next day. Who’s to say that the response time wasn’t acceptable?


Empathetic: “I am sorry to hear that you feel that we didn’t get back to you in a timely manner.” This acknowledges the customer’s concern without accepting the blame. Most times the customer hears the apology and that’s that, but the liability has been sidestepped until further information can be gathered.

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