“It’s not my fault!”

Impeccable Service *Recovery*

Taking Responsibility Doesn’t Have to Equal Guilt, Blame, Fault, or Shame

There’s a dichotomy here that comes down to basic human nature: As (human) service providers, we don’t take too well to being regarded as “wrong.” As (human) customers, we have a much easier time letting go of mistakes when the other person simply takes responsibility for the error.

Saying you’re sorry doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to “take the blame,” “feel the guilt,” “assume fault,” or “feel shamed.” It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you were wrong. It simply means taking the high road (and sometimes “taking one for the team”) so that your customer (and you) can move on; feel complete; let go.

The Power of One

Frontline employees don’t often recognize or appreciate just how much power they possess.

Every business founder has a vision of what the customer experience will be – even if they don’t put a lot of time or thought into expressing, or communicating it. Most of them simply put their time, money and energy into getting their doors open to the public, then wind up entrusting their frontline staff to deliver a customer experience that is worthy of repeat and referral business. It’s mind boggling to think about how much responsibility is on the shoulders of these frontline folks.

When I was in sales, my former boss would remind us – regularly, I might add – how many advertising dollars had been spent to get each prospect to walk through our doors. When we consciously thought of it that way, we were certainly less likely to squander an opportunity to connect with a potential client.

The Right Way to Apologize

Getting this right isn’t easy for some. Taking ownership of the error should not include saying things like, “I’m sorry if …” And it doesn’t even mean saying, “I’m sorry that …” For this to really work, an apology should start with, “I’m sorry for …” even if it wasn’t their “fault.” For example, an employee could say,

“I’m sorry for letting you down; for what you’ve experienced; for the way you were treated; for what you’ve had to endure. We’ve clearly dropped the ball and would love to have the opportunity to make it right for you.”

Additionally, the delivery must be congruent – the words must match the voice tone and body language – in order for the customer to feel acknowledged and complete. If the employee can’t make a sincere apology, then maybe he’s in the wrong position. (Wouldn’t this be a wonderful discussion topic – or role-play scenario – to include in your hiring process?)

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou

Customers for Life

There is a great gift in all of this … and wow, is it ever a gift. A satisfied customer is okay, but a customer who’s had a bad experience that you were made aware of and were able to turn around would likely become a customer for life; a promoter. You see, satisfactory service isn’t all that exciting. In fact, “satisfied” is passé. It doesn’t exactly warrant a story or even much of a memory. But bad customer service experiences can be treated as opportunities for what is called, service recovery. Taking responsibility as the service provider, delivering an impeccable recovery and exceeding your customers’ expectations … that’s where the magic happens.


  1. My great friend, Mali, just posted this on Facebook:

    “Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience; taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them” – Byron Katie

    How perfect.


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