So "Sorry,"... So What?

Apparently, in the world of customer service, we're a little behind the times, and this time it could actually work in our favor.  It seems we've missed the rise AND the peak of the "sorry trend."

I say this after experiencing a conversation with a Great Aunt of mine over the Thanksgiving holiday.  One of the wonderful gifts of the big holidays is getting to spend time with the people in your family who you would not really see or speak to on a regular basis, whether because of geography or an ongoing, yet underlying, family feud that originated 45 years ago over something the people involved can't even remember now, but they still snipe at each other.  In my family, one of these people is my Great Aunt, Henrietta, whom I only see when I go back to Kansas.  She's the kind of woman who, given her quirks and endearing communication patterns, you would think that only an author could create, but there she is, larger than life and off the page, telling people that they need to go get themselves, "some dementia pills," because they're, "fading out."  I really do love this woman, because there is something adorable about a sassy 75 year old.

This particular holiday, I was treated to a diatribe about how she hates the word, "Sorry."  She said she had been out shopping earlier that week and on several occasions, she had asked for help to get items, or asked if they had more of something in the back, etc.  She said each time, some "insolent annoyed sales person" would just shrug their shoulders and mutter something about, "Sorry."  "You're not sorry.  Not a one of you is sorry.  Not a damn one!" she finally told one of them, and bustled off in great irritation with her cart.  "They don't mean it, they just say it.  Why do they say it if they don't mean it?  Because their little handbook tells them to say it, and then smile at you.  But they're NOT REALLY SORRY! They just want you to go away." 

The rant went on for a good 15 minutes, and I started thinking about how, as a customer, it is irritating to hear that repeatedly. Everyone's sorry today, and my Aunt is right, sometimes it doesn't seem like they're saying it for any other reason than the fact someone told them to, just like when they were five years old.  At least when I was five, my mom made sure that when I apologized to my sister it was a "believable" apology, but I guess no one teaches that skill anymore.   I'm thinking that the epidemic of the empty "sorry" in our culture comes from the people who interact with the customers not being empowered to do anything to make the situation better, except to say that they're sorry, which to many people, is the same as doing nothing and then kicking dirt in their face.

If you're going to say it, you have to mean it, but since a lot of companies in our industry have already put an early kibosh on the word, we're ahead of the game there. However, what about empowering your lower level associates to actually take care of and resolve the problems?  Many hotels, theme parks, and even allow their front line customer care people to do just as the name implies - Care for their customers.  Does your company let the Leasing Consultants or the Porters do this, or do they have to tell a resident, "Lemme check with my managers?" 

If we're making a hiring criteria goal of looking to get people who have good decision making skills, or people who can adapt in a stressful situation without losing their cool, or people who know how to show good judgment, then why aren't we relying on the skills that we hired the people for?  I can understand holding a tighter reign for the first few months, but when they've shown you that there's nothing for you to fear, empower them and give them some freedom and latitude.  Someone who likes their boss and likes their job isn't going to intentionally make a decision that will jeopardize either.  And when they do make a mistake, that's what a manager is there for: to make sure they learn from it, and that it doesn't happen again.

How does your company handle this word?  When I came in to the biz, I was told to never use it because it, "Makes us liable!" but maybe that's not the case anymore.  Do you empower your people to solve the problems or not?  Why or why not?  I'd love to hear your opinions!

The little things are sometimes iconic

Some Assembly Required