How Not To Apologize

December 10, 2023
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Face it, we all make mistakes.  We say things or do things we wish we could take back.  Sometimes, things happen that are out of our control.  Yet, people can be disappointed or worse.  Later in this blog, I will give you a formula to help you and your teams avoid such potentially disastrous consequences.

How one apologizes for a faux pas or for an undesired outcome can make all the difference in the world. It can prevent the destruction of a relationship and perhaps even a lawsuit.

This week began the Chanukah Holiday, which lasts 8 days, the number days that a single flask of oil lasted for the Menorah in the ancient Temple, which can be seen depicted being carriedaway by the Romans on the Arch of Titus in Rome after the Temple was sacked in 70 C.E. (In a land then called JUDEA.  Sorry, I couldn’t help but insert the “indigenous people” reference.)



As on Christmas, gift giving has become a part of Chanukah celebrations, as anything that promotes happiness should also promote “light” and goodness.

And so, in preparation for the Holiday, I ordered something from an online company.  I placed the order in mid-November, and as promised on the website, the order was to be received withing 5-10 business days, weeks ahead of the first night of Chanukah, December 7th.

It has yet to arrive.

So, I first contacted the company (via email of course) and received the following response:

“I’m so sorry for the delay with your order – we recently had a huge surge in volume, which has caused a delay in fulfillment.”…

Benjamin Franklin said; “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

And that was exactly what this “customer care team” representative did.

This week in Congress we also saw such a scenario play out.  When being asked about how they deal with the rise of Antisemitism on their campuses, the presidents of 3 prestigious universities, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and MIT all gave similar, apparently rehearsed answers to questions they had been given beforehand.  The PR firms that they hired apparently misread the room and the situation.  OOPS!

In the aftermath however, the apologies that were given were excellent examples of how NOT to respond to a faux-pas.  They included a lack of a sincere apology and excuses for why the words they uttered were used.

Totally inadequate.

Anyone interested in discussing the issue of Antisemitism is invited to contact me directly.

Suffice it to say that how YOU and your TEAM responds to unintended patient outcomes and unfulfilled patient experiences can materially impact your practice.

Giving your patients an exceptional experience requires training and practice.  All professional sports players and teams have coaches.  It’s because it’s the only way to improve.

What are you doing to teach and coach your team?  Realizing this glaring deficiency in most practices, I created The Liberated Practice program.  Just the weekly Exceptional Patient Experience newsletters alone are worth the price, especially considering that you’ll get access to the 100 previous newsletters.  These newsletters discuss issues such as:

How to deal with an upset patient.
Why Listening matters.
Words that matter.
What message should there be while on hold?


And so much more coachable lessons, all in easily digestible morsels.  But as I said, there’s so much more than just the newsletters.

As an example of the coaching available as a member of The Liberated Practice program, here’s the formula to use when responding to a complaint.  Most people use the wrong formula, which includes an excuse.

“I am sorry…BECAUSE ____________”

The key is to make the words following “because” acknowledge the deficit the patient feels.  For example; “I’m sorry because I realize you wanted to come in on Wednesday, as that is more convenient for you.  Let’s find another time that’s convenient too.”

Or, when a lab is late delivering a Sleep device; “I’m sorry because I know how much getting a good night’s sleep means for you and your family and we will do everything we can to get your appliance to you as soon as possible.”

As for the missing Chanukah gift.  I’ll never again buy from this company.

There’s another lesson here:  Try not to promise something you can’t deliver. They should have been prepared for this “overwhelming” response since they paid lots of money on marketing to generate the response.  Did they think it wouldn’t work?

Are you marketing for new patients and don’t have room to see one for a month or more?  See the issue?  And how is the person on the phone dealing with that disappointed potential new patient?

With The Liberated Practice program, your front desk team will be coached to give a response that will keep the patient in your practice rather than sending them back to Google.

To your coachable team and exceptional patient experiences,


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Dr. Michael Goldberg is one of the leading educators on dental practice management in the United States.

Michael ran and sold a prestigious group practice in Manhattan and has been on Faculty at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Medical Center for 30 years including Director of the GPR program and Director of the course on Practice Management.

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