I Thought So - A Book of Epigrams

The Apology (work in progress)
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Nobody Loves A Snitch, and Other Human Resources Management Matters (work in progress)
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Death Of A Wholesaler
The Apology (work in progress)
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                                                 The Apology of Lipsey

I’ve studied the art of beautiful, graceful apologies. Sometimes the best way to appease a disgruntled customer was to write a nice letter of apology. But whether by letter, phone, or in meeting with them, I tried not to argue, excuse or justify. Getting drawn into an argument with a customer is a lose-lose situation. Even if you win the argument they are going to be thinking and saying bad things about you. There is a cost in goodwill and another cost in acquiring each customer. Customers do not come cheap -- that’s the basic wisdom of marketing, in a nutshell. Now I’m not a saint, and there were times when the customer was so awful, so impossible, or untruthful that I’d have been worthy of beatification if I didn’t gently disagree with their version.

Facts are facts, but even the best of excuses are futile because they make your problem the customer’s problem. It wasn’t their fault that we hired that incompetent, gouged the hardwood floor, or that the toilet is flushing with hot water. There’s nothing stranger than flushing and feeling that rising warmth. Actually, it’s kind of pleasant. Why do these things happen? Plumbing is a perilous trade because you are dealing with liquids that want to leak, gases that want to explode and substances that can make you very sick. Every joint has to be tight, every connection has to be the right connection. But codes are complex and sometimes irrational, and not even uniform by jurisdiction. New products are often defective or missing parts. It‘s a difficult, frustrating, complex trade. As we used to say, “If you’re having a great day, the chances are it ain’t over yet.”

The trick of a great apology is to hold your tongue and simply say that you’re sorry. That’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s human nature to qualify an apology with an excuse. We apologize, and then we negate the apology with an explanation of why it’s not our fault. Don’t we do it all the time in our personal lives? When was the last time you heard an unadulterated apology? A pure apology for bad service is simply “I'm sorry that you aren't happy with our service -- what can we do to make you happy?”

There are two halves to a pure apology. The easy one is simply saying the words. The hard one is really having the feeling that makes the words ring true. It matters because insincerity shows. Not having the feeling is just reading a script -- it works to a certain extent, but nothing compared to saying the words with true feeling. Of really caring about the customer and wanting them to be happy with your product or service. How can you learn to apologize, even to lying shits, with true feeling? Of being sorry in every sense of the word?

Here is my step-by-step method of working myself up to truly feeling the emotion of being sorry for the customer and sorry that he is unhappy with me. I start by feeling sorry for myself and my miserable stressful existence, which is an easy entry point for any small business owner. Next I move on to feeling sorry for my employees and their hard lot of bad backs and having to deal with unpleasant substances. Then working folks in general, the vast majority of whom toil their lives away only to receive myriad screwings and retire on a pittance. Then to feeling sorry for the drunken, drugged-out crazy homeless people bedding down in doorways outside our plumbing shop. On to the starving Sudanese, North Koreans or whoever is starving at the moment. Sorry for the turtles and dolphins caught in drift nets, the majestic old redwood trees being sawed up to build decks in endless monotonous suburbs, and the entire animal and vegetable kingdom ravaged by our swinish species. Finally, I focus on my wretched customer and yes, I truly feel sorry that I've failed them.  

If you’ve ever received a sincere apology you know how hard it is not to forgive the screwup, betrayal, insult, backstabbing, forgotten anniversary, leak, scratch, stain, chip or wrong color bathtub. You would feel like a complete jerk not to forgive, with a little hug and a pat on the back. Nor would you, a decent human being (in your own estimation) experiencing a magnificent, pure apology, be inclined to make further unreasonable demands on your plumber.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15