Since when is ‘I’m sorry’ not good enough?

I make mistakes. Do you?

Silly me, I thought everyone understood that this was just part of being human. Apparently, I am wrong about being wrong.

The new trend, it seems, is that “I’m sorry – I made a mistake” is no longer adequate recompense for anyone inconvenienced by your error. Nowadays, you have to fulfill your original promise – or go beyond.

Example? I saw a woman purchasing some makeup at a large department store. The clerk said that her purchase would entitle the woman to a free makeup bag with samples. The woman dismissed the offer, saying she really didn’t need another bag and would never use the samples. But when the clerk came back and said, “I’m sorry – I misspoke. You don’t get the bag after all,” the woman demanded that she be given the bag and samples. “It doesn’t matter if you were wrong – you said that I would get it,” she told the clerk.

A friend tells the story of seeing a customer in a restaurant complaining about a steak and being offered to have his meal comped. No, that wasn’t enough – he wanted his meal to be comped, plus another steak to take home.

I had an experience at work lately where I made a mistake in an e-mail sent to numerous research companies. Discovering my error, I sent another several days later, explaining and apologizing. Several people kindly responded, “No problem!” But a few others insisted that the original offer be upheld.

Market research has everything to do with people – trying to understand human nature, investigating what people like and don’t like. Maybe if we could start with accepting that part of human nature is making mistakes, correcting them would seem more manageable.

Have you seen any evidence of this trend? Do you think “I’m sorry” is still enough? What do you think has caused expectations of redress to skyrocket?

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6 Responses to Since when is ‘I’m sorry’ not good enough?

  1. Jim Young says:

    I think might have to do with a couple trends. One is a general sense entitlement or selfishness in a large part of society, that somehow we’re owed something because we’re special (or something). In my mom’s generation (The Great Generation), you don’t see this attitude so much, but in mine (The “Me” Generation) it seems like it’s in our DNA.

    The other reason may be the result of the whole customer service push the past two to three decades in all industries. The “customer is always right” dogma is pervasive, with marketing research firms telling companies in minute detail exactly how to make their customers happy. Maybe companies go too far? I don’t know, but it’s possible this obsequiousness to customers tends to promote this kind of entitled behavior.

  2. “I’m sorry” isn’t good enough when it’s parroted by a company to avoid making right on an error that cost me time, money, stress, etc. So, for me, the man whose steak was comped along with an apology should have accepted that the company did what it could to make it right. The make-up story was a grey area. Technically, the customer was not “out” anything; however, there had been an expectations set and then not met by the company. This is a situation where it would have been better to remain silent (“whew. Glad she didn’t want those samples!”) or to win the customer by being willing to break the rule and honor the verbal contract/ expectation set for the customer, giving her samples. In short, “I’m sorry” must be sincere and that sincerity demonstrated insofar as possible through actions. Otherwise, it’s just a method to be excused without hassle.

  3. Mike Nelson says:

    Perhaps a distinction needs to be made between a corporate apology and the apology of an employee. When a corporation needs to apologize for a policy it never feels sincere — it feels more like they got caught — so I tend to expect the apology demonstrated through actions.

    But, when an employee makes a simpl mistake (mis-speaks for example) — it is just an honest mistake and an apology should be enough. If the mistake has cost the customer time and energy, then giving them something in return is a nice gesture that can win the customer for life but it should not be required.

    I agree with the original post and would go farther to say that there are too many people today that are looking for any excuse to find a reason to complain so they can get something for free…and that is shameful.

  4. I wholeheartedly AGREE with Ms. Davies’ original post. More and more, people in our society believe that saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgot” or “me bad” or “I had a brain cramp” ABSOLVES them of personal responsibility for their actions and, lest we forget, non-actions. In my opinion, professionalism and accountility go hand-in-hand — especially in our industry!

  5. Cam Baskey says:

    I think Mike makes an interesting distinction between the human employee vs. big corporation. It’s much easier to demand compensation (i.e. free stuff) for a poor experience from a corporation because “corporations are greedy” (which drives a sense of entitlement for the consumer) and “corporations can afford it” (meaning the consumer feels no guilt over taking something from another person). I’m sure to some consumers, leveraging customer service issues to get free product/service from a corporation is akin to the “rush” they feel when they get a great deal on a product or service.

  6. Jennifer Heaton says:

    I think this may be because of a level of skepticism and distrust that stems from being misled and disappointed over the years. For example, day-to-day consumers are being bombarded with offers and promises with fine print that prevents them from getting what they thought they were going to get initially. E.g., customer goes into store because he/she saw a flyer advertising 40% off all bedding, only to find out when going to make the purchase that fine print disqualifies the brand of bedding he/she picked up.

    For the most part, I think customers have learned to be skeptical of any offer, and are cautious that it might be misleading and have fine print. So I think that when they feel they have truely been “lied” to (without disqualifying fine print), they jump on the chance to fight for what they deserve because in so many other instances they can’t (because there was fine print).

    I also agree that time and effort plays a big part though. In the described scenario of buying make-up I would likely not fight. However, if a salesperson interrupted my shopping, took up my time to show and sell me a product that I wasn’t otherwise interested in, and told me that it was a great deal because it came with something free, I would expect that it be fulfilled or leave with a bad taste in my mouth for wasting my time.