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Posted on 12.06.2011

NFIB Is Just Wrong to Advise Businesses Not to Apologize to Customers

I am stunned to see that the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), an organization to which I belong and generally support, sponsors an article advising small business owners not to apologize to customers when a mistake has been made. How did the the enewsletter piece, entitled, “Why You Shouldn’t Apologize to Customers” get past the otherwise sensible editors and member advocates?  In my opinion, telling small businesses to be careful not to apologize for a mistake is the singular worst piece of business advice I’ve heard in a long time. The article suggests that you are more likely to be sued if you issue an apology because it infers guilt.  Not necessarily so. Telling business owners, especially those of small businesses, to stay away from the “sorry” word seems irresponsible and short-sighted to me. Most small businesses are built on relationships. The owners usually know every customer by name and, in fact, the customer frequently considers the business a partner, rather than just a vendor.  Not apologizing for a mistake with your partner is just plain rude – and it’s bad business. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that indicates an earnest apology can help defuse customer tensions, preserve goodwill and reduce law suits. We all make mistakes and when we do, as a general rule, we should fess up and fix it.  It’s my experience on both a personal and professional level that when you are honest with your friends and partners, they feel validated and listened to … and they will work WITH you to help get the problem resolved. Refusing to admit the mistake leaves them no option except to get testy and aggressive. In fairness to NFIB, I clicked through to another article that is far more sensible and offers advice on how to deal with customer complaints.  Perhaps it’s just the title of this article and all it insinuates that I really object to. A friend once told me, “If you have to ‘eat crow’, eat it while it’s hot.”  I couldn’t agree more. Have you ever had to apologize, admit an error, or bow and scrap before a customer?  How did it go?

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