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5 Times You Shouldn’t Apologize To Your Client

The client is not always right! In fact they are regularly wrong! And when they are wrong, for the sake of peace and customer retention, we say sorry! Until now.

The client is not always right. In fact they're regularly wrong! And when they are wrong, for the sake of peace and customer retention, we say sorry.

Until now.

plane arriving

Vilnius rocks!

I've just returned from Vilnius in Lithuania - wrapping up some training and I had the best time.

Have you been? I haven't stopped talking about it since I came back. Highly recommend Vilnius as a destination. Great food, great people and lots to do.

My client was Oxylabs, who are a market-leading proxy and web scraping solution service for large-scale public data gathering. We were wrapping up my Key Account Management Master program and it was so exciting to see the progress everyone has made. They're so motivated to help their clients to achieve those break through and game changing goals.

I love to see organizations recognize that key account management can be the growth engine of their business and invest in their team.

The key account management team were also wonderful hosts, so a big shout out to Gabriele, Ruta, Edgar and Lukas for their hospitality and to everyone I met - for being so welcoming.

By the way, if you're ever in Vilnius, be sure to visit:

  • Backstage Roastery Cafe Vilnius. Fantastic coffee shop in Vilnius with the best cinnamon rolls you'll ever have.
  • Rosehip Vegan Cafe. Best jackfruit burger. Try the Ginger lemonade and the beetroot ketchup.
  • Trakai Castle. About 45 minutes from Vilnius. Built in the 14th century - its full of history and natural beauty.


lips are sealed

5 reasons you shouldn't apologize to your clients

  1. You need their help to do your job. You have nothing to apologize for if you need something from your client to help them get closer to their goals.
  2. You're product doesn't do what they want it to do. Your product can't please everyone and there will be gaps in functionality for some of your clients. Offer to raise an enhancement and tell them if enough other clients want the same thing, it'll get some development resources.
  3. Issues arise because they didn't do their part. When clients drop the ball, and there are consequences, there is no need to say sorry. Do your best to mitigate the fallout but it's not your fault.
  4. When you can't meet a deadline. A client that demands something from you at short notice because they have an urgent deadline does not mean it suddenly becomes your problem. If you can give them what they need when they want it, great. If not, tell them the earliest you can comply or offer a compromise (e.g. part now, part later).
  5. You're chasing payment. If a client owes you money, don't apologize when you have to chase them. If payment is overdue, your client should be the ones saying sorry. 
blank face

How to say sorry without saying sorry

I used to work for Qantas many years ago and it was drummed into me that sorry = liability. So I became skilled at the art of sounding apologetic without saying I'm sorry.

When you say sorry it can

  • impact your credibility by changing the relationship dynamics (clients have the power)
  • make you sound desperate (like you're trying to guilt them)
  • lead to conversations about compensation
  • lose it's impact - apologies are our knee jerk reaction (save it for when you are REALLY sorry).

Before you even think about saying sorry, you need to know what you're apologizing for!

So Instead of saying, I'm sorry to learn your experience was below expectations, you could say I want to understand the situation better. The real issue is often buried.

Other phrases you can respond with are

  • I understand how important this is
  • I sympathise with how frustrating this is
  • I can appreciate how disruptive this is.
  • Instead of apologizing, just validate their feelings.

It's important to empathize - clients often just want to vent. Let them talk, and don't make any snap judgements. Always say you'll investigate and get back to them.

When you do reply with a brief explanation. Too much information is dangerous - can make client's panic.

And explain what you've done to address the situation. Even when the problems weren't created by you, there's often things you can do to ensure it doesn't happen again.


How to say sorry and mean it

This doesn't mean that apologies aren't necessary sometimes.

If you do have to make them, here's a framework from Jennifer Davis consulting

  • Apologize for something specific to the person or people who were impacted.
  • Acknowledge that you understand how your actions affected them.
  • Explain where you were coming from without it sounding like an excuse.
  • Now state an action plan for how you’ll solve any problems your actions may have created, and how you’ll act differently in the future.

When we make mistakes we should own up, apologize and fix them. But the best approach is to try to keep your apologies to the minimum.

By constantly apologizing you may be hurting yourself more than you think. And besides, customers don't want apologies: they just want to get what they paid for.

5 Times You Shouldn’t Apologize To Your Client

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5 Times You Shouldn’t Apologize To Your Client

Quote of the week

"Never ruin an apology with an excuse." ― Benjamin Franklin

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Have a great week

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown is one of the leading key account management experts in the world. Through The KAM Club, a global membership community for key account managers, his blog that reaches 20,000 people every month, and a range of training and coaching services, Warwick has helped thousands of key account managers get better results, faster.
Go here to read Warwick's story from key account manager to entrepreneur. If you want to send Warwick a quick message, visit his contact page here.

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