You Gotta Mean It

The words, “I’m sorry,” can sometimes feel like a true apology or just a great big brush-off.

I’m reminded of a time when, long after its due date, a cushion I’d ordered from Pier One hadn’t arrived. For a week the tracking section of the UPS website stated it was “scheduled for delivery today.” After several attempts to track the package online, I finally decided to call UPS to see where it was.

The UPS representative informed me that the policy at UPS is to scan all packages within their control every 24 hours and this package had not been scanned in 8 days. So effectively, it was lost. When he offered no solution, I asked what was to be done next. He stated that UPS would have to speak with the sender- the only ones with the authority to initiate an investigation. I then asked if they would be handling that. “I’m sorry. It’s our policy that you’ll have to contact the sender and have them call us to initiate the claim.”

He wasn’t rude at all, but he wasn’t really sorry.

My next phone call to Pier One was entirely different. From the beginning, the representative sounded genuinely sorry for my inconvenience even though this whole affair was likely not their fault at all. She placed me on hold in order to call UPS immediately. When the hold time was too long, she offered to call me back which she did within 10 minutes with the following response:

“Katherine, this is Sherri calling you back from Pier One. First of all, I want to make sure you know how sorry we are that not only have you not received your cushion but also that you’ve had to spend your time tracking it down and getting the run-around. I found out that UPS has located the package and will be delivering it on Monday. I have made a note to track it myself and follow-up with you to make sure you have received it. If you do not, we will ship another via express delivery immediately. Again, I can’t tell you how sorry I am that this has happened. It is not the experience we want our valuable Pier One customers like you to have. I’m sending you a gift card as a small token of our appreciation for your continued business and in the hopes that you’ll give us another chance to prove how much we value you as a Pier One customer.”

In the past, I’ve had a different kind of experience with UPS, receiving great service from my driver, Chuck, who has delivered my packages cheerfully to my home for years. I’ve also had less than brilliant service at a Pier One store. The point here is just that! It’s not the organizations that create great service. It’s individuals who understand and sign on to the company’s vision of great service and take personal pride in delivering it. Those on the front-line, interacting with clients, patients, and customers are the ones who make the decision to make a difference.

We hear the words “I’m sorry” with our ears, but we feel them, and thus believe them when the entire message is congruent with the words. If you’re in business for more than a few months, you will mess up. And when you do, make sure your front-line people understand how to make the words, emotions, body language and resolution all match up so that your clients “feel” and “believe” your desire to create exceptional service.

“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”

~ Jerry Gregoire, CIO, Dell Computers