Sorry doesn't have to be the hardest word

I felt that it might be appropriate to reword Elton John's famous lyrics, because there are times when the word "sorry" doesn't actually have to be the "hardest word".

We all foul up from time to time.  It is, after all, a perennial aspect of what we call the 'human condition'.  Even at our best, there are likely to be errors, moments of carelessness, and those critical times when something unplanned happens, and our attempts to deal with the mishap descend into comedy or farce.  Long experience would indicate that when a 'problem' materialises, the best place to start looking is in my own backyard, rather than seeking to assign the blame elsewhere.

And so it happened yesterday.  A company whom we deal with regularly, and which invariably pulls out all the stops to help us, had billed us in June.  A little inconsiderately, we had managed to 'file' the invoice instead of paying it.  I am relieved to say that this kind of omission is something of a rarity for us, but that did not lessen the humiliation and guilt I felt when a very, very nice credit-controller rang us to ask (very nicely) for payment.  What could we do?  I apologised profusely whilst our accountant made the payment immediately via BACS.

Today, I thought about it, and apologised again.  Even that did not seem enough - what else could I do?  It was not simply the desire to make good for what was a substantive omission, but rather I did not want this (excellent) company to feel that we somehow undervalued their service.  In the past, we have given books as presents in such situations - but this company supplies books, so the coals-to-Newcastle thing clearly wasn't going to be appropriate.

Then in a flash of quite uncharacteristic inspiration, I remembered a leaflet I had seen recently from  It had not quite descended to the composting region at the base of my wastebin, so I resurrected it, smoothed it out and was able to decipher the message under the accumulated coffee-stains and other detritus.  I took a look at their website - brilliant!  The net result was that, within a few minutes, a voucher for ten 'Graze Boxes' was winging its way to our supplier.

Now, here's the thing.  We may have fouled up, but this company is now going to receive ten little gifts over the same period of weeks.  Each time (I hope), they'll remember us - positively.  The outlay wasn't huge, but the effect is much more substantive.  Our supplier has plenty of experience with late payers (although three months was taking the biscuit!), and I doubt if many of those tardy customers are likely to utter much more than a token apology, and certainly won't be sending them some sort of gift in order to make amends.

I have noticed a trend in our culture in recent years.  Yes, people, companies and institutions do, at times, say "sorry", but when you analyse the words, it is rarely a real apology.  An insurance company which has messed up a client's pension vesting will say, "We're sorry if you feel that...", placing the blame fairly and squarely on the policyholder's shoulders.  Or they may just clog the whole issue up in their formal complaint-handling procedure, and drag the matter out for so long that the client forgets what it was about in the first place.  I don't think that the word "sorry" needs to be dragged out of us as a last possible resort, when we know that we've messed up.  If it's our fault, and we know it's our fault, then we should use the word promptly, and firmly and sincerely - and back up the conversation with some sort of gesture to show that we mean it.  And, if we tackle things in this kind of forthright manner, suddenly we'll find that we've nipped formal complaints in the bud, avoided some kind of nasty, rumbling issue that mushrooms into something worse - and transformed the client into one of our biggest advocates.
By the way...
If you're interested in those 'Graze Boxes', there's a special offer going on.  Go to: and enter the special code GZBOXAZ to get your first box completely free.  Or, if you're trying to lose weight, leave this page immediately.
Kevin Moss, 23/08/2013