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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Art of the Apology: Saying sorry without meaning it.

I'm sure anyone who has been on the customer service side of a consumer complaint or the consumer side of a consumer complain has experienced an insincere apology by the business providing the good or service.  That is to say, just about anyone who is well in their adulthood.  I had an instance of this a couple days ago.

 A couple days ago I left a review of my January (2017) car buying experience.  Last time I bought a car was in 2014.   At that time, I was just happy to get a reliable car with any kind of financing (as I had to declare bankruptcy in 2012).  The previous few times my credit was good enough that I knew I could and would get an excellent rate.  Anyway, I'd repaired my credit somewhat since 2012 and I knew I could get a decent, but not eye-popping financing rate.  


So back to the car-buying experience. In January (2017), I had to buy another car abruptly as another driver destroyed my car and left me with a concussion and whiplash.  In any case, when I bought the car soon after the accident, I still was suffering from the effects of a concussion.  Despite this, I had enough clarity to do a pre-qualification to see what my improved circumstance would allow me to get.  Specifically, I new what I could get in terms of amount and rate of financing on a car.  I also researched price.  So, I came into the dealership knowing about what to offer and about what to expect in terms of  financing.  I did the usual haggling on price, took a test drive with the salesperson in back--which I found annoying, but not disqualifying.  Anyway, so I got to a price I could live with on the car.  So, now it was time to determine financing.  So, I get two hits to my credit report while waiting to be brought back to finance the car.  So, I know the finance guy has run it for at least a couple financiers.   So, he comes out and says "good news, we got financing".  I'm thinking 'and what else is new', but held my thought in check.  So, he brings me back and tells me that he ran my credit report twice so not to ding my credit scores too much.  Fine so far.  So, we start chitchatting a little back and forth and I mention that I'm feeling rough and I'm still recovering from a concussion and I'm glad to get this out of the way.  BIG MISTAKE.


Fiance guy proceeds to do the fast-talking "extra warranty packages" presentation.  You know the hard sell.  Now bear in mind I'm recovering from a concussion and he knows it as I told him.  So, he then doesn't mention the interest rate and says which one--warranty package--you want.  I'm wearing down as I still am injured and just want this over.  But, I had the presence of mind, even with a concussion, to remember what type of financing I prequalified for.  So, I look at the rate he chose and observe that it is with FMC (Ford Motor Credit) and it is higher than the range of rates I prequalifed for.  So, I'm getting agitated about said, my prequalification rates were all lower and you said you ran it for another financier.  Well, what do you know, magically out of nowhere another chart appears with the 1.5% lower rate.  So, I'm thinking so you were just going to stick me with the higher rate if I didn't have the presence of mind to realize you were screwing me so you'd get a nice kickback?  I was irritated, but accepted as reasonable the new rate and he continued the hard sell.  He continued this even after I mentioned to him I was getting tired and not feeling well because of my concussion.  Over the next week as my concussion clears up, I proceeded to drop the extra warranty packages that I wouldn't have selected if I was on my game..  However, this was not before the same finance guy tries to shame me into keeping them. 


So, I left a bad review on the dealer's Facebook site.  The customer service guy who responded wrote something to the effect of 


"Thank you Rich, for sharing your experience with us. We value your feedback and appreciate your business. Please know that we are working as a team to improve and we apologize for upsetting you. A great customer experience is our top priority."

I'm thinking, you apologize for upsetting me?  What kind of mumble jumble is that?   So, I wrote back,


"I'd prefer if you apologized for the finance guy's behavior, not for the fact that I was upset. Me being upset isn't the issue, it is the way I was treated. I hate when people say things like I'm sorry "for offending you" as if the 'sin' was being offended and not what was done to you that would have offended you."


So, this interaction gets me to thinking about a blog post and viola this blog post idea occurred.  How do people say I'm sorry without meaning it or actually admitting much if any liability?  Before I conclude with my list, I appreciate that much of the time the people who are doing the 'apology' are effectively doing the bidding for higher ups and often times have little freedom to deviate from a script.  Anyway, without further ado:


SAYING SORRY WITHOUT MEANING IT OR OWNING LIABILITY

  • INSULT SORRY
    • I'm sorry that you feel that way - This sorry means that even after you've laid out a legitimate case for why the other party is wrong, it is still 'your feeling' and not an actual offense that is the problem. To me this is them saying, "It is you not understanding us that is the problem and perhaps maybe we didn't represent ourselves or convey our position well enough."  It is often effectively a dismissal and delegitimization of your position by making it about "your feelings" and not your valid points.
  • FAKE OWNERSHIP OF PROBLEM SORRY
    • I'm sorry if we offended you - The authors of this beauty are not taking ownership of a problem AND they are not even acknowledging that you are offended (or have a right to be), much less that you have a valid point.  It pretends to sound like they are owning up to something, without actually owning up to something. 
  • FAKE EMPATHY SORRY
    • I understand where you are coming from - Depending on the circumstance this can really be condescending.  Sometimes this is a legitimate apology or empathy, but often times it is just words they are suppose to say.   If said without any support, it can just words to try to sound like they care, but not really 'caring' as a business.  This is especially insulting if there is no way they could personally understand and just are trying to humor you without taking an concrete steps to show contrition.
      • I got rid of my Cobalt and a couple weeks afterwords, I got notice from GM of a long overdue recall notice.  My car was powering down partially while I was driving.  All indications was that they knew about this problem for years and the fix was relatively minor, but they were trying to avoid having to admit to this fault with the vehicle as it was widespread and could cost millions to replace.  GM rep says to me, I understand where you are coming from.  I said, "Did you drive an unsafe vehicle from GM what would partially power down and which air bags were apt not to deploy properly because of it"?  She said "no" and I said, "Well you don't understand then that your company knowingly put me and my daughter in danger".  Suffice to say I was ticked off.
  • POOR US SORRY
    • It was beyond our control or "we didn't anticipate" - Sometimes, it really is beyond their control such as weather related delays.  However, often times it is a lack of planning or lack of effective research or understanding of customer demand. This is actually an apology, but an apology with an excuse.  That is to say, "we are sorry, but..."

Now the last "Sorry" in the list I believe comes closest to the mark of sincerity or legitimacy.  However, the real proof of sincerity or legitimacy of an apology comes later.  That is to say, when they've made an effort to either make you whole again or at least not repeat the same problems that put them in a position to have to 'apologize' in the first place.  QT gas stations are one of the best I've seen at this.  For instance, there has been a few times they had a promotion going on with one of their kitchen products.  Anytime they don't supply properly for it and cannot deliver the product, they've tried to get me the closest alternative to it at the promotional price.  On top of that, each time that's happened, they've given me a coupon for a free cold or hot beverage from their fountain area.  Now to me that says they really value me.  Not only do they apologize for their failure in stocking the promotion effectively, they get as close as possible to duplicating the desired product and then on top of that give away something of value to note the inconvenience.  That's the type of less I could not teach any better to my daughter for when you fail someone else. I believe that is the perfect way to end this post.

Cheers,
Rich