Sorry, Not Sorry! Is this Customer Service?

By Bob Morrell on May 24, 2018

'Apologise for any inconvenience.' We hear this so often but what does it mean? On this current trip I’ve heard it in relation to:  

Late arrival into Kings Cross. 

Late Departure from Kings Cross. 

Running slow to avoid 2 stopped trains. 

The card machine not working in the buffet car. 

The slow running, unexplained, near Welwyn Garden City. 

The stop outside York, again, unexplained.

That’s just in the first hour. So let’s have some fun whilst I wonder when I'll actually get to my destination, and pick it apart. 

It’s an apology, an acknowledgement of a failing. And they’re also bringing it well beyond the confines of the train – and making it for ANY inconvenience caused. 

I would have thought, even if you’re not rushing at the other end, the fact that you are now late, is an inconvenience that you, at the very least, would prefer not to have had. 

And the scale of the inconvenience could be tiny, or not inconvenient at all, or massive, missing a wedding, an appointment, or missing a lift onward to somewhere else. 

So the apology, grammatically and technically, really is a good ‘catch all’. 

But my viewpoint is, just how sorry are they?

Firstly, they don’t sound sorry. The tone is as bland and chatty as the lady joking about the card machine and it’s lack of basic function. And let’s be really clear – it’s the rail company that has failed utterly and every person on board, hundreds of people, have been let down through their broad expectation of a stated and advertised time, which the train company chose to commit to!!! We didn't make the timetable up - they did - so perhaps they're sorry for being very optimistic?

Secondly, they’re not really sorry, because if you were sorry to someone you cared about you would do something… to make it up to them!! So where’s the tray of complementary drinks – by way of an apology? A small gin would certainly take the edge off! Okay then, where’s the text to all customers written in plain English and admitting how hugely they have screwed up your day? 

I know, if I can be bothered, within certain guidelines that I really don’t care about, I could fill in a form and get some form of refund but they’re banking on me being too lazy to do that, which I am.

So the apology hopes to assuage my frustration at this pitiful sequence of events whilst travelling in a 1st world, advanced and wealthy democracy. 

So I start to slag off my own country – ‘Do we really live in a place where we can’t run a train timetable?’ Are they apologising for making me feel animosity towards the UK and the way we run things? 

I start to listen to every announcement with my fellow passengers with increasing incredulity to the point where we’re laughing at how utterly useless this experience is – are they apologising for that inconvenience? Or the inconvenience of being charged through the NOSE for a basic trip from London to Newcastle! Which is late? 

Thirdly, they are NOT apologising. That is NOT an apology in my book. When I say sorry to people I have upset, inconvenienced, hurt, made them feel frustrated and angry, I have to mean it, and look and sound like I do – plus I want to pre-empt their anger by doing something IMMEDIATELY to compensate. In fact I want to over compensate so they move through these emotions towards some basic form of contentment. 

And if they won’t accept my apology I must convince them of its genuineness. Not here. We have no choice but to accept their apology. We’re over a barrel – to get to Newcastle tonight, my options are few! 

So that ‘Apologies for any inconvenience caused’ is worse than a simple ‘really sorry about this.’ 

This is a corporate apology that someone, sometime, back in the mists of time, thought was a good idea. Whoever it was thought, 'yes - this sounds about right'. And now everyone uses it with no real meaning. From any customer service perspective this line is the stuff of nightmares. We, try and train companies OUT of using these habits for all of these reasons. But no-one needs training to work out this is the wrong thing to say! You don't mean it - so say something else! This is a sentence that needs to be removed!