When ‘Sorry’ just isn’t Enough

A sentence that begins with the words, ‘I’m sorry…’ isn’t always an apology.

flower-316437_1280My car, still under warranty and with less than 5,000 miles on the clock, developed what I now understand to be a known fault. The manufacturer (four letters, beginning with F… yes, that other word crossed my mind too) has, it’s entirely fair to say, not been in the least bit helpful.

The manufacturer’s customer service contact centre seems to have scant interest in providing actual customer service and their repertoire of customer care messaging is correspondingly sparse. As the debate over my vehicle developed over several phone calls and I patiently outlined my grievance again and again, I noticed that every response began, with the obstinacy of a stuck record, with the words: “I’m sorry that you feel this way…”

As a wordsmith and professional marketer, I’m alert to the scenario. You know, when what someone appears to say isn’t what they’re actually saying. That’s when words are intended not for clarity, but for misdirection.

It’s everywhere in sales and marketing messages. Take, for example, where savings or performance improvement statistics are presented with those little words, up to. See up to 50% improvement… get up to 85% off… that sort of thing. Then there are those unlimited contracts which, in the small print are actually limited by something called a ‘fair use policy’. And there’s the subtle difference between the words flavour and flavoured – did you know that one? If something is strawberry flavour, it will be packed with chemicals and not even the hint of a berry of any description. For real fruit content, it would have to be strawberry flavoured (as in, flavoured by an actual strawberry).

And then there’s… “I’m sorry that you feel this way…” It may sound like an apology, but it’s not.

“I’m sorry that you feel this way…” is a verbally vacuous, pointless, patronising platitude – nothing more.

“I’m sorry that you feel this way…” is the opposite of what I needed, which was an admission of responsibility and more importantly, ownership of the problem.

I hit a brick wall – no, not in my car thankfully, but with my efforts to get the manufacturer to own the problem. That was left to the dealer – and I’m very grateful they were prepared step-up where the manufacturer was not, delivering understanding, an acknowledgement of the underlying problem, a considered response and solutions instead of platitudes.

We have a way forward; it’s not ideal but I can live with it. It’s involved me in additional cost, which even I could see was unavoidable given the situation. But I’m a realist and it was the best way forward to liberate us both from a situation which the manufacturer – despite the internet being littered with tales of this model’s flawed mechanicals – seems unwilling to properly acknowledge.

Oh… but that reminds me of another word that doesn’t always mean quite what it should: Warranty

9 thoughts on “When ‘Sorry’ just isn’t Enough

  1. So sorry to hear of your car troubles. To have your frustrations fueled further by unhelpful customer service is all the more irksome. And I agree, the statement “I’m sorry that you feel this way” is patronizing and arrogant. Ick.

  2. I’ve worked in big chain restaurants and we are trained to react like that. “I’m sorry that you feel this way…” etc. One place even showed a step by step sample conversation on how to deal with a customer who claimed to have gotten food poisoning from us. The goal is to never admit guilt, try to diffuse the situation, and to make the customer feel like the situation has been resolved.

    1. Ah, that’s the thing…. Never admit guilt.

      But that’s why it’s so unsatisfying to hear, although it’s the obvious response for a supplier to make when there’s a fear of being blamed, held responsible or worse, sued.

      Ideally though, it should be followed up with creative suggestions as to how to resolve a problem and a commitment to delivering an acceptable solution or resolution. But so often, it’s just a platitude which suppliers hide behind.

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Charlotte. 🙂

  3. I feel your frustrations, even as I have no immediate experience attempting to navigate such a situation. Oodles of useless empathy coming your way.

  4. I feel your pain having experienced the very same situation except with an italian four letter manufacturer beginning with F……..
    Bought new, my van, after suffering a constant and potentially dangerous engine cut out problem had to be sent to an early grave, thousands of pounds in repairs & just 3 years old. I could not be dishonest when reselling. Move on while you can still pass it back to the dealer

    1. Yes, the dealer will have to… deal with it. It has cost me, but thankfully not beyond reason – and hopefully now the problem will go away. It’s all very unsatisfying but one is powerless in the face of corporate stonewalling.

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