Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Sorry Shouldn’t Mean “Too Bad”

The other day a buddy shared an experience he had with a company that sold him mulch for his yard. When the truck arrived, he asked the driver and his co-worker to put the mulch in the backyard. The driver said, “I’m sorry. Dropping the mulch off in the backyard is considered white-glove service. You needed to let us know you wanted the mulch in the backyard when you ordered it.” In this case, sorry had a double meaning. Maybe the driver was saying he was sorry to apologize, and at the same time, he was also saying, “Too bad. Pay more money if you want the mulch delivered an extra 50 feet to the back of the house.”

I had a similar “I’m sorry” experience when I went to check out at a hotel. There was a $35 resort charge that I didn’t know about. I was there for three days, so that added up to over $100. I asked the front desk clerk what I got for that $100. She said, “Free internet, access to the workout room and a newspaper.” Hmm… most hotels I stay at don’t charge for any of these amenities. And, she added, almost ashamed, “I’m sorry. They should have informed you about the resort fee when you made your reservation.” Once again, the word sorry was more of a “Too bad,” than an apology.

Lesson One: The words we use are important. And, if we use a phrase like “I’m sorry,” what comes after that needs to be part of the apology versus a “too bad” type of explanation. Even if it is “too bad,” the way you say it can include some empathy and caring that makes the customer know you feel their disappointment.

Lesson Two: The surprise resort fee wasn’t a big deal to pay. Yet, at the heart of the issue is that I felt the hotel was “nickel and diming” me. So, I asked the front-desk clerk to do me a favor. I told her that I wasn’t mad at her about the resort charge. It wasn’t her fault, and she was just the bearer of the bad news explanation. She immediately seemed to relax. Then, I told her what I did for a living, and asked if she would share how she felt about this situation. She told me that almost every day several guests complain about the resort fee, and she feels she has to defend it, and that makes her feel uncomfortable.

When you know that your customers are regularly disappointed with a part of your process, figure out a way to eliminate that disappointment. In the case of the resort fee, it seems simple. It’s fine to charge it, so when the guest makes a reservation, if it’s online the fee should be made clear and be included on the confirmation receipt. If the reservation is made over the phone, inform the guest, and in the process, “sell” the benefits of that fee. For example, the reservationist could say, “Make sure you take advantage of the workout room. It’s more like a spa with the latest equipment. It’s part of your resort fee. You’ll love it.” Then, at check-in, go over the room rate and resort fee and “sell” it again. Make it a benefit, not an ugly surprise at the end of the trip. Isn’t that so much better than having to say, “I’m sorry!”

There are many ways we can turn negatives into positives. There are many words we can use to show our customers we care. The powerful words, “I’m sorry,” shouldn’t be abused. They shouldn’t be part of a too bad explanation. They should convey empathy, care and concern. And, if you have to utter those two powerful words more often than you should, figure out why, and do something about it!

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, award-winning keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact 314-692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

  1. Robert Minneman says:

    “I’m sorry”… But if the first word out of their mouth in justification of their “resort fee” is along the lines of “Free…” all I hear is “we are liars” and “bait and switch”.

    “Free” does not mean we wait until the end of your trip to charge you.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage this behavior or find ways of attempting to make it ‘palatable’. Supposedly corporations are “people” too, and we need to teach these “people” to be better citizens, not better liars…

    “Sorry”, which hotel was this? I TRULY want to avoid them in my future

  2. Christine Jones says:

    I have recently started a monthly customer service newsletter for my staff. I found your site and must say it is a great resource for me. I was reading this article last week and this has happened to me in real life three times in the past week! My fridge went out and I rent my home from a reputable company. The part they thought was bad was ordered and shipped to my house. I called on Wednesday to set up an appt to get them to install it on Thursday which is the day I was told by the man who came out. When I called they said there was no one available on Thursday-all techs were booked weeks in advance (well can’t this take priority over something that can wait weeks?) but the same man could come out on Friday afternoon. I said ok. I was called on Thursday and said sorry, that should have not been booked in the first place and they can’t come out until Saturday. Then I was told there was no way to tell when they would come out on Saturday, if there was a new move in that took precedence (another article about new customers over current customers). We were just supposed to wait around. After complaining we got the first 8am appt on Saturday. That replacement part ended up not working so I called back. They decided to get us a new fridge. The company they contract with left a voice mail message for me yesterday at 2pm to set up a time on Friday to come and bring it. I called back. The phone went to a full voicemail that I couldn’t even leave a message. I called the main number, was told that they could deliver it next Tuesday. I said that I was told by their own guy it could be Friday. The lady said sorry, I would have to put that order in by 2pm to schedule something on Friday. I told her the guy called me at 2pm and I tried to call back but it was full. She finally made the installation on Friday but said someone would call me today or Friday morning to say when they’d be in!

    We wrote a complaint letter to the rental company and used the phrase-you say sorry but you just mean too bad, these were our mistakes but you have to deal with it.

    • That’s quite a story. Thanks for sharing. Sorry… but! Certain words that come after the word sorry completely negate the apology. I hope the fridge is working now!

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