Superior Customer Service: Sorry Doesn’t Mean Guilty! #NCSW14

Superior Customer Service: Think Care Not Guilt

I hear some customer service reps, agents, and analysts — even leaders — say that you shouldn’t say “We’re sorry” to customers because it means “we’re guilty.” There is even one consultant who has written a book with this same idea. The problem is, it is simply not true. It’s a myth and a costly mistake to make.

Sorry doesn’t mean guilty. It means we care. In fact if we are thinking about who’s guilty, we aren’t even in the zone of delivering superior customer service and customer experience.

Don’t picture this …

Superior Customer Service: Image is words Mea Culpa

Superior Customer Service: Sorry Doesn’t Mean Guilty Image via

Picture this …

Superior Customer Service: Image is Balloons w/ Sorry Words Celebrating!

Superior Customer Service: Sorry Means We Care!

Grateful for both images from

Superior Customer Service: Think Care, Not Guilt!

Superior customer service is never about guilt. It’s about responsibility, desire, and passion to serve and to care.

  • Sorry doesn’t mean guilty. When we offer condolences at a funeral, it doesn’t mean we are guilty. Sorry is one of the many ways to express empathy. We’re sorry for your _________ doesn’t mean we’re guilty of it.
  • When customers are upset with us, we are responsible (not guilty) for the less than satisfying experience they had. Let’s not back away or defend ourselves. Let’s make it an incredibly great moment that customers will remember. Studies show that outstanding service recovery skills often create some of the most loyal customers! Many customers believe that some mistake is bound to happen and they are wowed by great empathy and service recovery skills.
  • Thinking that sorry means guilty says we are thinking of ourselves instead of the customer. We have misinterpreted the customer’s outburst as an accusation against us. It isn’t. Customers want care and resolution. Give them an unadulterated full out “we’re sorry”. Give them full commitment to resolve the issue and loads of care.
  • Customers can get upset for many reasons. Don’t analyze whether they are valid reasons. Don’t analyze who’s at fault. Don’t act neutral. All of these are wasted time and effort. Go all the way and show them true empathy. Empathize emotions; don’t analyze them.
  • Humility is not humiliation. Humility allows us to put the customers emotional needs ahead of ours. We are the professionals. This is not humiliation — the driving emotion behind the guilty/sorry debate. The debate is useless. It sidetracks us from the main goal of delivering superior customer service, memorable customer experience, and retaining the customers.
  • Live with accountability not blame. We are responsible for delivering superior customer service experience. This is a far cry from being guilty when we miss the mark.

Remember, if customers are complaining to us, they’re still interested in our business. We have a chance to show we care. A chance to wow. Don’t blow this chance by withholding empathy. Give a caring “we’re sorry”. It’s not a shameful “we’re guilty.”

Apologize to customers if they had a less than stellar experience. It is a chance for us to reaffirm commitment with true empathy. It’s a chance to show just how much we care about them. It’s a chance to improve our business and wow the customers even more.

Short 2 minute video with inspirational message for leaders and teams to deliver superior customer experience!

Replace guilt with care. Guilt doesn’t belong in superior customer service. Care does. Create a customer-centric culture that brings them back for more.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Post:
Leadership: Breed Accountability Not Blame
24 Customer Service Tips That Make Loyalty Easy
Superior Customer Service: 5 Ways to Stay Calm AND Caring w/ Upset Customers

©2013-2014 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.



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18 Responses to “Superior Customer Service: Sorry Doesn’t Mean Guilty! #NCSW14”

  1. Khalid says:

    Amazing topic Kate!

    Welcome back to your vedios 🙂

    I relate to your thoughts on this. We in IT tech support have to say sorry when calling customers (users) to fix their problems remotely.

    Sometimes when we have to refer back to the user late, we of course have to exilpicitly say we’re sorry to keep him/her waiting for us but most of the time I usually open up the phone rapport by showing empathy with using other words which means the same thing like I understand how it feels when something goes wrong with my application, let me try to help.

    Once you show such an empathy to your customers, then your ‘sorry’ will never mean guilt! It will mean that you value the relationship with them and that’s what build a superior lifelong customer experience!

    “Apologizing does not always mean that you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego.”
    – Unknown


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Khalid,
      Great quote you have added to this discussion. How simple and how true. Value your relationship more than your ego!

      Thank you for sharing this.

      Warmest regards,

  2. Alli Polin says:

    Spot on, Kate! Just this week I looked up a local restaurant on an international review site as I was trying to decide if my family should go there for a meal. A local had written the last review on the site complimenting the food but expressing disappointment in the service. This particular restaurant responds to all comments on the site. Instead of writing, “I’m so sorry that we let you down. I hope you’ll give us another chance to show you our best…” They wrote that everyone loves them, they have a great waitstaff and the locals are the ones with unreasonable expectations. I’m a local! Their unwillingness to respond with an I’m sorry to that person also showed their unwillingness to say I’m sorry to me. I will never be eating there. Not only have they lost one customer over an “I’m sorry,” but two.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Alli. Every word we utter makes a difference. And when service providers defend or praise themselves to customers their message is “we don’t care what you (the customers) think.”

      I am grateful for your story. Real life stories speak volumes!

      Thanks 🙂

  3. Dave Moore says:

    Hi Kate
    Great post. A common mistake unenlightened companies make. I hear it all the time, especially in the UK where ‘customer service’ can be an oxymoron…with emphasis on the moron part!
    Even a simple, brief, sincere, ‘I am sorry to hear that you have had that experience, let me see what we can do to rectify this’ is all it takes but…you can wait a long time to hear ANYTHING like it.
    Get over here and sort these guys out Kate!!!

    All the best

  4. Joy Guthrie says:

    Great post, Kate. I wonder if there someone was taken to court and the plantiff had evidence of an “I’m sorry” and whether or not that would be assumed as guilt by the jury. I don’t know; I just wonder if that has happened. I like how you frame the “I’m sorry.” You can muck up an I’m sorry by saying “I’m sorry you feel that way.” If the words throw the experience back on the customer, it’s not a good “I’m sorry.” Your examples are all spot on. Thanks for some clarity!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thx Joy. I’m with you. Let’s not muck up the “we’re sorry” with a bunch of conditions that undo the caring message. Think care, not guilt!

  5. I really enjoyed your post, Kate. Expressing empathy is very important indeed. The ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you’ are nice words to hear as a customer, but it would be even better when the person who says them actually means it. We all hear ‘sorry’ a lot, but often, it sounds way too forced to feel genuine. As you said, it’s all about responsibility. I’ve had a customer service employee expressing his empathy for my dying console (which died due to the technical shortcomings of their system), whilst not even trying to help me out of that awful situation. That is NOT taking responsibility! In short: Saying sorry is one thing, feeling something and act upon that feeling is a whole different story. I love it when companies actually ACT like they care 🙂

  6. Great topic Kate.

    You won’t always be able to solve the issue right away, and sometimes, you may not be able to at all. But customers appreciate it if they see that you are doing your best to help them. And if you can solve the issue, always do it ASAP and do everything you promised to. Don’t play games with the customer by leaving him/her hanging.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Ian! Love your closing sentence … Don’t play games with the customers by learning them hanging. That says it!

      Best and warmest wishes,

  7. Tom Rhodes says:

    At times I think customers will use guilt and blame because they don’t think you care. I’m sorry for. …, is a start to finding the resolution they really want by showing you will listen and find that resolution. Be the customer and feel their concerns. Then be the hero they are looking for you to be.
    Great post.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Tom,
      I absolutely love your last statement> “Be the hero the customers are looking for..” The memory lasts forever.

      Thank you so much for adding to this post. I am so grateful.

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