When Sorry Does’t Cut It

I got up at 3:45 this morning to take a Southwest 6am flight to San Diego. The flight was delayed for 20 minutes, which turned into an hour and then a 5 hour delay… scheduled, we have yet to get back on the plane after being directed to get off. As an airline, Southwest went from being easy to being really challenged in just a few years…. but that is another post.

The motivation for my missive this morning is the phrase “I’m sorry”. It has been uttered countless times today and each time I hear it I want to scream “save your hollow words, it doesn’t help and I am not responsible for making you feel good about your screwup”.

Customer service agents have been trained to be empathetic and acknowledge customer frustration, and this is the problem… it is training, not real empathy. I hear “I’m sorry” so often that the phrase has been devalued to a slogan! I would prefer these companies just say “yeah we screwed up and it sucks”. I get that people want to be acknowledged but there is something subversive about the phrase in that it is not about correcting a wrong but rather containing a wrong and not giving the customer anywhere to go with it.

Saying “I’m sorry” in a customer service context is really saying “we acknowledge your complaint and our responsibility for that phase of your issue is concluded”. There is no cost for a company to say “I’m sorry” therefore there is no value to the gesture.

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