We’re not sorry for the inconvenience
Here’s some fun facts about being at Disneyland:
- It’s a total leisure activity, but still costs a lot of your time
- If you’re there, you’ve paid a minimum of $80 to get through the door and you’re expecting something amazing for that price
- If a ride breaks down when you’re standing in line, it’s really freaking annoying.
I was at Disneyland last weekend and the park was pretty busy. It was almost at capacity and rides were shutting down pretty consistently. Each time a ride shut down I heard this announcement: “We are sorry for this inconvenience”. I couldn’t wrap my head around why Disney would be using this dead, irrelevant language with their customers. Disney is supposed to have the highest standards of customer care! We’re sorry for the inconvenience is not a very magical statement.
Waiting 30+ minutes for a ride only to have it break down and close right as you’re ready to board isn’t an inconvenience. It’s a total annoyance. It’s frustrating! It reminds me that I paid a lot of money and wasted a lot of time to stand in line and not get on a ride.
What I would have loved to hear from one of those cast members was something like, “So sorry folks! This ride needs to take a break for maintenance. We hate to do this and we know it’s really annoying, so we’ll try to get it back up and running shortly.”
Here’s some things that actually are an inconvenience:
- A short detour for road works that adds a few minutes to your commute
- Having to buy original Altoids because they’re out of peppermint Altoids today
- The top of your coffee coming off but only spilling on a hard surface that’s easy to clean up
Here’s some things that are not just an inconvenience:
- Your normal route to work being closed indefinitely, causing you to add 30+ minutes onto your daily drive, each way
- Altoids ceasing production without warning
- Spilling coffee on yourself because the lid wasn’t properly secured by the barista
You see the difference, right?
An inconvenience is something that’s sort of “Meh” when you think about it. It’s something that can easily be gotten over or replaced or avoided, and not something that typically makes a big dramatic story to retell. An inconvenience is not something that doesn’t work for me after I paid good money for it, and it’s not something that compromises the security of my data, and it’s not something that actually affects me physically or emotionally, or causes harm to my standard of living.
Now, as a customer, it’s very easy to feel that a small annoyance is the end of the world. I’ve been that person, ranting about something totally benign in real life that in the moment of virtual need felt very important to me. That’s what happens when you pay money for a service that doesn’t supply what you are expecting: entitlement grows and grows and grows. The response we get from the person who caused that issue for us can easily turn a “Meh” situation into a total rage frustration in a split second. Fighting off trouble with robotic legacy statements doesn’t kill the beast, it feeds it.
As people employed to respond with empathy to customers, we have a duty to differentiate between what is easily brushed off and what is a total freaking annoyance. It’s our responsibility, no matter how entitled or ridiculous the customer is, to quell their frustration with our language and tone. It’s our job to say, “What is the customer going through right now that is coloring their experience?” Then we have to respond in kind.
That means, if a customer paid money to access your app and it’s currently down, your job is not to defend your developers and engineers and fend off the villagers and their pitchforks. Your job is to lead those villagers to patience by empathizing, by knowing what they’re feeling, and by responding as humanly as possible. If you don’t do those things, you’re only fueling the rage customers will have in the moment, even if the thing they’re so enraged about doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
It’s not our job to determine what’s a big deal, it’s our job to treat every circumstance and trouble like it is the biggest deal ever for each customer. That kind of perspective breeds empathy over empathy, and is the only thing that can keep customers on your side when things go wrong.
Here’s some examples you can use to be better at apologizing than Disney seems to be:
“I’m so sorry this is happening, and I want you to know we’re working hard to get everything running smoothly again. I know this is a huge frustration for you – it is for us, too. We hate that this is interrupting your work.”
“I’m so sorry for this trouble. I know it’s putting a huge kink if your workday, and I hope it’s not going to last much longer. I’ll let you know as soon as we’re back up and running.”
“We hate downtime! We know it’s keeping you from working, so we’re hustling to get back up and running. I’m so sorry this happened!”