Early in my career a boss told me, “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.” Good advice I never followed.
Many people do follow that advice, like the presenter of a webinar I attended that became the webinar that wasn’t. Shortly after his introduction, the presenter’s comments were out of sync with his slides. He didn’t seem to realize that there was a problem. I sent a polite comment through the chat function, but the problem persisted. A few minutes later, the slides stopped advancing entirely, and for the remainder of the webinar I sat eyeball to eyeball with a photo of Bill Gates staring back at me.
The webinar support technician eventually told the presenter that no one could see the slides he was referencing. So the presenter tried describing the unseen slides—an unsatisfying process for everyone. Finally, he gave up and moved to Q&A, only to be informed that all of the questions submitted by attendees had been lost.
I felt for the presenter. Like every business professional, I’ve been in situations where the best of plans for service delivery don’t unfold as intended. For a few days after the webinar, I expected to receive a follow-up email from the presenter acknowledging the issues, or at least an apologetic reference on his blog. Like the webinar, that didn’t happen.
Two weeks later, I received a broadcast email announcing the same webinar. I didn’t click through to register, and not because of the glitches in the first webinar. The presenter lost my participation because he didn’t own his outcomes.
Technology, logistics, information or preparation—regardless of the source of success or disruption, we own the outcomes of the service we provide. Ignoring the outcomes doesn’t change that. Disruption can be an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity and willingness to see the situation from the customer’s point of view. All it takes is a simple apology and a good-faith effort to make it right. That’s not a sign of weakness; it’s good business.
Stuff happens, and everyone makes mistakes. The webinar that wasn’t is a vivid reminder of how your customers feel when you don’t deliver and don’t own it. A sincere apology may not be the most innovative customer service effort, but it’s often one of the most effective.