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