“Sorry” Seems to be the Hardest Word

by | June 27, 2014

We have all been there at some point in our lives (and if you haven’t, well, congratulations!) – made a mistake, overlooked a typo, forgotten to return a call, missed a deadline, or just somehow annoyed a client/teacher/employer.

**“How bad can a typo be?” I hear you say – consider the following: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” or the cannibalistic “Let’s eat Grandma!” Who knew a comma, or lack thereof, could be lethal?
[Back to the story…]

How you deal with a problem says as much about you as the work you turn in. I speak from a background of (many) years of working in top hotels in Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and The Netherlands. In that time, I have witnessed staff being yelled at, had people cry in front of them, being threatened and generally verbally abused. To be clear, sometimes I was the staff at the receiving end of above-mentioned abuse. We choose to work in the service industry and as such we deal with people’s feelings and emotions. Whilst there is no singular fool-proof method for service recovery, I have found that the 4 steps below can be highly effective in MOST situations:


Let the client speak/rant IF they wish to. Let them effectively air their grievance and get ‘it’ off their chest. When they are done, acknowledge the mistake and the consequences thereof.


Sorry. A five letter word that can perform miracles. Once the client has calmed down, apologize. Take the responsibility and say sorry (and mean it).


Can you still fix the problem? Can you make the appointment, re-schedule the meeting, place the order or send the document? If so, do it! And do it WELL. If the task was time-sensitive and the window has passed – what ELSE can you do? Be proactive and creative. If the client missed an important meeting because you didn’t coordinate the transportation, can it be rescheduled? Can it be transcribed? Can you dial in remotely? Can you broadcast in via Skype or Hangout? If not, can you make up for it???

Learn & Grow

Lastly, learn from the mistake. What can you do better? If you missed an important email, can you set up a better notification system? If you forgot to arrange a delivery – set several reminders (one on your phone, one on your laptop and a physical Post-It on our desk). Whatever it is – ensure your client knows that you have taken the problem seriously and have taken steps to ensure it does not happen again. At the end of the day, let’s not forget perspective. I always remind myself – we are not (literally) saving lives here so learn from it, and evolve.