Home » Readers Write » Currently Reading:

Readers Write: Maintaining Customer Loyalty Despite Our Mistakes

October 9, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

Maintaining Customer Loyalty Despite Our Mistakes
By Ryan Secan, MD, MPH

Who can spot the difference between these two uses of the words “I’m sorry”:

  • “I’m sorry you have a black eye” vs. “I’m sorry I punched you in the face”
  • “I’m sorry you lost money in a Ponzi scheme” vs. “I’m sorry I stole all of your money”
  • “I’m sorry you need another operation” vs. “I’m sorry I left an instrument in your abdomen”

In the first cases, “I’m sorry” is an expression of sympathy, in the second, it is an apology. The word that follows “sorry” makes all the difference. “I’m sorry you…” is an expression of sympathy, “I’m sorry I…” is an apology (also note the passive voice in the first examples vs. active voice in the second – this is classic for the “mistakes were made” rhetorical device).

It’s easy to see the difference in the above examples. The tough part is that when we’re deep in a situation (and maybe we’re feeling shame, or embarrassment, or want to avoid responsibility) it is easy to offer sympathy to someone who really deserves an apology. The victim dealing with the bad outcome, while likely appreciative of your sympathy, really wants and deserves an apology. Regardless of how much sympathy you offer, on some level, they are not going to be satisfied without a true apology.

In all aspects of life, there are occasional bad outcomes. As a physician, I unfortunately see these far too frequently. These can be in our business or personal relationships as well. Bad outcomes often take place despite our very best efforts to prevent them. The universe isn’t always fair.

However, sometimes we make mistakes that lead to the bad outcomes. Since we all want to provide great customer service (or have high quality relationships in our personal lives), these bad outcomes need to be addressed. In medicine, culture is finally shifting away from the expression of sympathy to the apology (when appropriate). At the University of Michigan, a comprehensive medical disclosure policy (including an offer of compensation) has been put into place leading to a significant decrease in new claims, lawsuits, and costs. Part of the reason this policy has been successful is that it includes a discussion of the plan for preventing the same mistake for happening again.

Also, don’t use the word “but” in your apology and expect it to mean something. Think of one of the examples above, and how it would sound with a “but” in it:

  • “I’m sorry I punched you in the face, but …”

What can you possibly say after the “but”, that isn’t an attempt to weasel out of responsibility and negate the apology? While you should explain what happened (and what you’re going to do to prevent it from happening again), don’t try to qualify your apology with it. Remember, even if they haven’t heard the saying before, intuitively, people know that “everything that comes before the ‘but’ is BS.”

The next time you make a mistake with a customer or in your personal life (and we know it’s going to happen soon enough), consider offering a sincere apology – (active voice, “I’m sorry I”, no “but”, best possible redress, and plan for prevention in the future). You might be surprised at how well this improves your customer’s loyalty.

Ryan Secan, MD, MPH is chief medical officer of MedAptus.

View/Print Text Only View/Print Text Only

HIStalk Featured Sponsors


Subscribe to Updates



Text Ads

Report News and Rumors

No title

Anonymous online form
Rumor line: 801.HIT.NEWS



Founding Sponsors


Platinum Sponsors




























































Gold Sponsors
















Reader Comments

  • HIT Observer: What I find most interesting here, is people defending their common practices rather than truly taking this as invaluabl...
  • Bob: There's no incentive for the provider to spend time doing a price comparison for the patient. Nor is it a good use of th...
  • Peppermint Patty: Veteran - can you clarify what was "fake "? Was something made up (definition of fake) or did you disagree with Vapo...
  • Pat Wolfram: Such a refreshing article. Thanks -- there really can be a simpler version of an acute HIT implementation. But I do ...
  • Woodstock Generation: Bravo to HIStalk's Weekender recaps and other news/opinions. I read it first thing on Monday mornings..................
  • Veteran: #fakenews...
  • Vaporware?: Secretary Shulkin: "the American healthcare system hasn’t yet figured out interoperability, but the VA can lead the wa...
  • Justa CIO: The reported go live date for McLaren Oakland is wrong. There are no dates set for activations for any locations. Post...
  • Brian Too: I admit I am partial to the quoted ICD-10-CM of "S07.9XXA Crushing injury of head, part unspecified, initial encounter....
  • Cosmos: As others in the comments section have pointed out before, GE's EMR for athletes is ironically a health record for the h...

Sponsor Quick Links