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Just try the S-word

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Wann sagen Engländer und Amerikaner "sorry"? Wenn sie einen Fehler gemacht haben. Wann sagt ein Deutscher "Entschuldigung"? Wenn er den Kellner ruft. Schade, denn im Geschäftsleben kann ein bisschen ehrliche Zerknirschung Wunder wirken. So besänftigen Sie auf Englisch die Wut Ihrer Kunden und beschweren sich höflich.
"Sorry seems to be the hardest word", Elton John once sang. Although he was talking about personal relationships, this could equally apply to customer service in Germany. Things have improved, but there is still a long way to go before reaching American standards. In particular, the way customer complaints are dealt with leaves a lot to be desired

An English friend of mine - a communications skills trainer whose job is to teach customer service to German sales staff - believes his clients have an almost pathological fear of using the "S-word" (or, in their case, the "E-word", Entschuldigung)

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His explanation is this: "They seem to believe that by saying sorry they are admitting personal responsibility for some awful catastrophe - which is going to get them fired or worse - rather than simply apologizing for something that has gone wrong and inconvenienced a customer." A recent experience, when I was sent the wrong concert tickets, confirmed this. After numerous phone-calls, I finally spoke to the head of customer relations, who admitted it was all very unfortunate, but insisted nothing could be done. She simply could not bring herself to use the "E-word" - or, for that matter, any of its many synonyms

In Britain and America, saying sorry is the most normal thing in the world. Therefore, when dealing with English-speaking customers, it is good practice to apologize clearly and unequivocally. (The only situation in which I was brought up not to say sorry is after a car accident, as this could indeed be taken as admitting legal responsibility.)

"I'm sorry ", "I'm so sorry" and "I'm terribly/dreadfully sorry" are the simplest ways of apologizing. For example, you could say "I'm sorry for the delay in your order" or "I'm terribly sorry that your order was delayed". More formally, you could also say: "I regret to inform you that the goods you ordered are no longer available", or "I'm afraid that the model you requested is no longer in stock"

Other ways of saying sorry include "I apologize for ..."; or more strongly, "I do apologize for ..."; or the more formal variation, "Please accept our (sincere) apologies for ...", which is often found in business letters.

Another common phrase is "Please accept our apologies for the/any inconvenience that you have been caused". This corresponds to the German "Wir bitten um Ihr Verständnis". Note that when speaking on behalf of a company, it is common to use "we" instead of "I"

Most customers are satisfied if they get a sincere apology, a simple explanation, a promise of action ("I'll make sure your order is processed immediately"), and some form of compensation ("Please find enclosed vouchers to the value of £15"). A letter can end with a statement such as "We look forward to having you again as a customer in the near future"

Of course, it is easy to understand why people in customer service often get frustrated by complainants who are rude and aggressive. Being able to complain in an assertive but non-aggressive matter is therefore an essential skill in business

In English, it is common to add "softeners" to complaints, to make them less direct and confrontational. For example, rather than saying "There is a problem with my order", you could say "There seems to be a problem ...", "There appears to be an error ...", or "I think there must have been a mistake"

In business correspondence, you can begin by saying "I'm writing to complain about ...", before going on to a short description of the problem and asking for or even proposing a solution yourself ("I would like to suggest that you offer us a discount of ten per cent for the difficulties caused")

The aim of your complaint should be to find a solution, not to attack the person you are speaking to. If you are not getting a satisfactory answer, you could ask to speak to someone in authority: "I'd like to speak to the manager/your boss/your superior, please.

Other stronger phrases, when a complaint has not been dealt with satisfactorily, include "Please ensure that this does not happen again", "I'm afraid we must insist on immediate payment" and "I'm afraid that if this matter is not resolved swiftly, we will be forced to take our custom elsewhere"

Anyway, that's all I have space for. I'm dreadfully sorry. Complaints can be sent to the e-mail address below.
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 18.11.2002