“Sorry for the inconvenience” is one of the most popular phrases used in customer support. Call center agents typically use it over the phone to appease angry or dissatisfied customers. However, there are a lot of inherent flaws that have made the use of this statement overused, cliched, and not so personalized. Let’s look at why apologies in call center support need to be more empathetic and discuss alternatives that will resonate with customers better.
Why is an apology necessary?
A lot of times in customer support, you need to have difficult conversations with customers. You’re likely to run into users who are facing a hard time with your product or service, and need your guidance and expertise to help them resolve the problem. An apology, therefore, becomes a must in such cases.
The two primary reasons as to why apologies have a significant impact on building customer relationships can be summarized as:
They give you the chance to acknowledge your mistakes
Although customers can be impatient at times, if you frame your apology correctly with the right amount of empathy, they will most definitely understand your position. Your apology should very clearly acknowledge the mistakes on your company’s behalf and ensure the customer that this is not something that will be repeated in the future. When your customers feel their problems are being genuinely acknowledged and worked on, it will build trust and a feeling of positivity in them.
They allow you to propagate a sense of customer loyalty
Bad customer service experiences and negative feedback can spread like wildfire. You do not want to be at the receiving end of a Twitter rant because you sounded too robotic over the phone while answering a support question. By apologizing promptly and proactively, such situations can be avoided. In fact, stories of brands that go out of their way to apologize to customers go viral in no time. Customers are more likely to stay associated with your brand for a longer period of time if they experience such ‘wow’ moments. Good apologies, therefore, go a long way in instilling a sense of customer loyalty and positive word of mouth.
The traits of a proper customer apology [with example phrases]
So, what does it take to craft the perfect customer apology? Here are a few ground rules that you need to be mindful of before apologizing to customers.
Acknowledge – not just your mistake, but also its impact
Customers call support for a variety of reasons. It can be something as minor as a missing FAQ in the support portal, or something highly critical such as a billing issue or a product feature completely breaking. Regardless of the scale of the customer’s problem, it’s essential for the call center agent to fully acknowledge the impact an oversight can cause the customer’s day-to-day operations. It’s hence imperative to pepper your apology statements with phrases like:
- “I understand how this problem would have affected your daily operations”
- “We fully recognize that this is a critical issue which can impact your workflows”.
- “I sincerely apologize for all the trouble you must have faced because of this issue.”
Exhibit empathy and put yourself in the customer’s shoes
When customers call support after trying multiple troubleshooting measures on their own, they’re naturally not going to be in a pleasant mood. It’s important for your support agents to not panic in such situations and handle the call with care and empathy. Listen to what the customer has to say patiently and only speak when it’s your turn. Reassure them throughout the call that their grievances will be addressed at the earliest. Some phrases that will come in handy when you’re looking to pacify disappointed customers include:
- “I would be just as frustrated if I were in your position.”
- “I understand how this [problem] would have made you feel.”
- “I’m deeply sorry for keeping you waiting for so long.”
Express urgency and set the right expectations for resolution
Whenever you’re apologizing to customers, do not leave them hanging without a resolution ETA. Ultimately, customers want speedy service and further delays will only add to their frustration. However, you also need to weigh in how long it will take your product/engineering teams to work on the issue behind the scenes. You, therefore, cannot be making false promises to customers and need to sound as realistic as possible. If they’re going to have to wait for a substantial amount of time to expect a resolution, explain clearly why the delay is going to occur and apologize in advance for the trouble caused.
Here are some sample phrases which can comfort anxious customers who are eager to know when they can expect a solution to their problem:
- “I’m sorry on behalf of my team for not resolving this problem sooner.”
- “You can expect a resolution as early as tomorrow”
- “Please bear with us as we work on resolving the problem. Rest assured, you can expect a solution within 5 working days.”
- “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m going to expedite the process and try to resolve your problem ASAP.”
Avoid using template responses
When customers are expecting you to pay attention to their problem, the last thing they need is a template response that doesn’t address the issue at hand satisfactorily. They’re probably tired of hearing statements like “Sorry for the inconvenience” and other awful phrases that add zero value to the conversation. They want actionable solutions that will bring them closer to resolving the problem. The faster you get to the point, the more your customers will appreciate the candor.
Let’s look at what you can say instead of reiterating the same old, boring phrases:
- “I’m sorry for the trouble you’ve faced so far. Here’s what I can do for you right now…”
- “Would you like to try this workaround while my team works on troubleshooting the problem?”
- “Would you mind sending a picture/screenshot of the issue so I can look at it right away?”
Why sorry for the inconvenience just doesn’t cut it anymore
Now that we’ve seen what good apologies look like, we can get an even better idea as to why “sorry for the inconvenience” is an outdated statement that will do your agents more harm than good if used regularly in customer conversations. Its key flaws primarily center around the following reasons:
- Poor customer experience is much more than an inconvenience. The customer’s disappointment with their favorite brand letting them down should not be dismissed with something so perfunctory.
- The phrase lacks authenticity as it has been overused since time immemorial. Customers are aware of this and most likely think support agents use it on autopilot.
- If used without a follow-up statement, it does not come across as very empathetic. This is because, at no point, does it acknowledge the impact of what the customer is facing.
- It does not express urgency or give the customer reassurance that their issue will be resolved soon.
- It can often be counterintuitive and lead to negative customer experience. You would not want to risk customer satisfaction levels due to minor mistakes like these.
Final thoughts – how to give a customer apology without saying ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’
As customer expectations increase, the way you deliver customer service must evolve too. Tried and tested approaches that worked in the past may not be all that successful anymore. You need to constantly reinvent the wheel and offer genuine help to customers. If this means getting rid of phrases like “Sorry for the inconvenience”, and adopting newer, more empathetic apology statements, you should hop on to the bandwagon soon before your customers start complaining.
So, what are your alternatives to “Sorry for the inconvenience” that have worked well for you in the past?
We’d love it if you can share some interesting experiences in the comments below.
Illustrations by Mahalakshmi Anantharaman
Freshcaller is a modern-day reimagining of a call center software for customer support, sales, IT, and HR teams. With its cloud-based architecture, Freshcaller brings together the best of legacy features like IVR and advanced call routing capabilities like Smart Escalations, Customizable Performance Reporting to help you set up state-of-the-art phone operations. Freshcaller offers phone numbers in 90+ countries, requires zero phone hardware, and is extremely easy to use.
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