If you tell employees to apologize when a customer shares feedback about a bad experience, think again! Customers give you feedback because they want you to hear them and because they want you to improve the experience for next time. And most customers like it if somebody relates to the pain they might’ve experienced. A reflexive “sorry” doesn’t do any of those things; neither does an explanation by an employee, by the way.
Take my recent Nordstrom experience: I arrived at the pickup desk to get my items. And while I was there, I decided to share a small piece of feedback: I had never received an email that confirmed that the items had arrived in the store. The only thing I received was a confirmation email that my T-shirts would arrive in five days, plus a texted reminder to pick my stuff up five days after the supposed arrival date.
When the associate at the pickup desk hears my feedback, he says “sorry,” and he tells me that they don’t open packages right away, but if packages are there for a while, they do. I am pretty confused and explain that I am talking about the missing email notification. He apologizes again and says it must be an error in the email system.
When I turn back to the pickup desk to return two of the five T-shirts, another associate says that I need to find a cashier desk to do so. I say that it would be nice if I could complete the process right here at the pickup desk instead of searching for a cashier. And the associate explains that the Nordstrom service desk is often busy. I am confused again, because that wasn’t what I asked about. When I clarify, the associate tells me that Nordstrom decided to not allow customers to return items picked up in-store at the pickup desk. And she mentions that Nordstrom might reconfigure if it got more traffic . . . but so far, it was working OK — funny that the associate says this to me right after I had taken the time to share that I didn’t find it OK.
So, in the span of 20 minutes, I got a “sorry” from one associate and an explanation from another. Neither associate took the chance to thank me for the feedback. Neither associate actually listened to what I was saying, and I had to clarify. And neither associate asked me for more details or why I had given the feedback. But they both missed an important chance to log feedback that could help with iterating Nordstrom’s in-store pickup process. How will Nordstrom or any firm test and learn if they don’t get that free (!) customer feedback from associates?
The right reaction when customers share feedback is to thank the customer and — if possible — to ask for details to make sure you understood the feedback and the rationale behind it. Only then can your firm gain the critical insights you need to improve customer experience. If there is time left, of course, feel free to apologize — but authentically, not reflexively.