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Re-examining service failures: Taking a wrong and making it right

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

How should you approach an upset Customer? Should you say, "I'm sorry?" Is there a better way? Well, according to You, Yang, Wang, and Deng, who wrote an excellent article, and worth the read, there is a way and believe it or not saying "Thank you " might just be the way to go.

Consumer complaints

The bar is set high when it comes to consumer expectations. Keeping them happy is hard work. Just look at the restaurant business statistics, with 60% complaining about slow service, 29.4 % upset about the quality of food and drink, and 21.6% unhappy with the wait staff's inefficiency, it is no wonder that recovery methods need a face lift. Not only do businesses have to be concerned with complaints, but there are other consequences. Financial loss and negative word of mouth to name a few. With a 1.6 trillion-dollar loss in 2016 from customers switching to competitors because they were not happy with their purchases to 44% venting online, keeping the consumer happy is a priority.

“I’m sorry” versus “Thank you”

Saying "I'm sorry" when you do something wrong is a normal response to a mistake but saying "thank you for bringing that to my attention" also holds some weight and may even be advantageous. It still holds the business accountable, but there is a shift in perception. When you say, "thank you," it is uplifting. It makes the person who has been wronged feel better. Where when you say, "I am sorry," it is more apparent that you did something wrong. When there is a transgression, it must be followed up with a symbolic recovery, in other words, saying “Thank you” or “I’m sorry” and that both appreciation and apology have "distinct psychological influences on consumers.”


Appreciation takes the heat off. No longer is the customer focused on the mistake; instead, they are focused on their merit and contribution. This factor, in turn, affects their self-esteem. The self-verification theory explains why people react positively. Appreciative words influence a person’s beliefs about themselves. Mainly, because it creates a positive self-view. It puts the consumer in the benefactor position where the "service provider's approval of the consumer's positive qualities … increases their self-esteem." Increasing the consumer's self-esteem will improve post-recovery satisfaction.

Self-esteem reacts differently for everybody. Some people are more narcissistic and will appreciate a "thank you" more so than a less narcissistic person, so it is essential to know that appreciation gets the same billing as an apology if a customer's narcissism is low. Therefore, what a service provider says should be "tailored to the situation (i.e., the timing of the recovery, the severity of the failure, and presence of utilitarian recovery).

So “Thank you” might just be better than “I’m sorry.” "Thank you" will not replace a severe service failure, and to please the customer, an exchange or replacement will probably be necessary but a "thank you" may likely appease a customer; Thus, a "thank you" could save you a few bucks because that customer may not even need that coupon. I know that when someone thanks me for my kindness and honest observations, it puts a feather in my cap, and I am keener to forgive.

At Moe's group, your product success is our number one priority. If you are interested on how to solve consumer complaints.

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