Please don’t ever say those words.

If you need to say you’re sorry – say, ‘I’m sorry’.

Last week I had a telephone conversation with Blood Donors.  They called me.

I do want to give blood. I know how important it is to give blood. Unfortunately, right now they won’t take my blood as I’ve had regular acupuncture.

In my experience, when Blood Donors call, their customer service and empathy is so low and so arrogant that by the end of the call I want to say something to them. To put them right!

But you can’t… because it’s not some nasty telesales call… it’s Blood Donors.

And, I’m too polite.

At least I was too polite until last week when I received a call asking me to give a pint of my precious O negative. Yes I’m O neg – professionals reading this know what that means.

After pointing out that I had received acupuncture and wasn’t sure if I could give blood, I received the third degree.

Honestly, it’s more pleasurable having a call with the Inland Revenue.

I felt like I was a terrible individual. I’d sinned, by paying to have acupuncture from someone who wasn’t part of the NHS.

That my choice made me a bad person.

It was cold, transactional and at times rude. At the end I gave my feedback.

The response?

‘I apologise. But I have to ask the questions.’

The difference between saying that platitude or something like  –  ‘I’m sorry, Mr Heppell.  That was certainly not my intent and thank you for the feedback. We appreciate you as a blood donor and whatever you’re receiving your acupuncture for, I hope you’re back to your best as soon as possible. Once again, I’m sorry’ –  is what?

10 seconds and bit of care.

Am I being too harsh? I’d love to know what you think.  Please leave a comment below.

Be Brilliant!


PS When we run our Hearts and Minds customer service programmes, we teach simple tools and frameworks to ensure customers always get the best service – on the phone, face to face, in writing. It works 100% due to a little secret we know and teach that others don’t and can’t.

If you’d like to know about Hearts and Minds click here and we’ll share the secret.


  1. October 3rd 2019 by Lloyd Burgess

    Totally agree, i cringe when i hear people say “all i can do is apologise” which by the way isn’t actually apologising it is just indicating intent to. The last person who did that to me i said “go on then”…… and their response was go on then what…. so i said well you said all i can do is apologise so go on then….they then hung up

  2. October 3rd 2019 by Peter Lovegrove

    I have just had exactly that sort of conversation. We are a small company of 8 office staff and 16 site staff, Today we are carrying appraisals with all the site staff. The line manager walked into the sales office and said “right you lot you are all having appraisals this morning what time are you available?”
    1 No planning or prior notification
    2 No explanation or apology.
    3 No empathy
    You can imagine the backlash!

  3. October 3rd 2019 by AJ

    It’s like sorry, not sorry. It’s a cold response with no sincerity and makes you feel more annoyed than if they hadn’t bothered.

    They won’t get new donors with that sort of manner and will switch current / lapsed donors off.

    It doesn’t take long to apologise in a way that conveys some measure of sincerity to the customer

  4. October 3rd 2019 by Dónal

    They are a disgrace,in fact a bloody disgrace.

  5. October 3rd 2019 by Mona Sood

    Interesting article which offers much to think about.

    Giving blood is a socially responsible act, but those unable to do so should not be made to feel errant. Because the website is not a NHS site, I am inclined to believe that this non-clinical task is outsourced to a commercial team.

    Don’t expect someone who has to stick to a script and who’s KPIs are measured by pints of blood to even think about empathy! Not paying attention to such feedback misses a valuable opportunity to improve the business. Surely it would be more efficient to thank the potential donor, wish them a good day and terminate the call when a “no” is the answer?

    Management 101: the wrong incentive structure is bound to drive the wrong behaviours.

  6. October 3rd 2019 by Alan Rafferty

    You were right Michael, I did enjoy it. Given the value of O negative blood I would have expected better, but to be honest it should not happen to anyone. I call this never apologising “the gospel according to John Wayne” as he used to say “Never apologise it shows weakness “. It doesn’t of course. It shows strength, responsibility, maturity and consideration for others. Of course the proof is in what you do after the apology. If you can only apologise then you have to ask yourself if the apology is sincere.

  7. October 3rd 2019 by Laura Dawson

    No you are not being too harsh and using emotional blackmail is never acceptable regardless of who is asking. I recently had a phonecall from my distressed Mother in Law when the company she uses for cleaning (which does deliver other senior care services) came round unannounced to assess her. Asked her about home ownership and next of kin and was generally invasive – apparently they have to for them to be compliant… ‘with who’ was not discussed. What is marketing data and what is genuine assessment was not clear for my Step Mother. Not a sorry in the response when I asked about it. So no, not harsh – your need to get your job done is not my reason for letting you be rude to me.

  8. October 3rd 2019 by Rick Hamilton

    Not too harsh at all. I lost my temper with a Hotel receptionist for not saying sorry…

    He gave me a key to an already occupied room…

    I had arrived late so it took me a few seconds to register that the room I walked into was already occupied. The man was laying naked on his bed and was watching a movie on his TV…. I apologized and quickly returned to the reception…

    I recounted the story to the receptionist who simply said “its not my fault the Computer said the room was empty”…

  9. October 3rd 2019 by Des Reynolds

    I agree. Wonderful organisation but customer service leaves a lot to be desired. They should always make existing and potential donators feel special because it is a vital thing they do. And ‘I’m sorry’ owns the situation much better than ‘I apologise’

  10. October 3rd 2019 by Trevor Iredale

    Hi Michael I had another issue some years ago that stopped me giving blood
    I asked to book an appointment at the local church they used and said I had about 1.5 hours to spare when I get there
    On arrival they had about 10 people waiting advising they could not fit me in the time I booked
    Tried to re-arrange but advised I had to ring the booking line where I did not have a good experience being told I should have just waited
    I politely advised the lady on the other end that I had taken time out and booked an agreed apt and would not be booking any further apts due to the service I had received from them all

  11. October 3rd 2019 by Rose

    This prompted me to talk about something I witnessed today. It was downright distasteful. We were in the car at the gas station, the pump attendant, an elderly gentleman greeted us so kindly. After gas was filled, he went a step further and started cleaning the windscreen. All the while,taking pride in his work. I was impressed and smiled back. To my utter dismay, one of my colleagues in the car said” wow, I wish he can come over and clean the windows in my home”. I thought I was the only one who heard it, but I wasn’t, we had 2 other colleagues who heard it too. In this situation, I felt sorry for the lack of respect and total dim-witted behaviour of the colleague who spewed those foul words. At that point, I felt sorry, sorry that she doesn’t have a heart or a brain- it was disgraceful and embarrassing to be in the car with someone like that.

  12. October 3rd 2019 by Pearl Winters

    Your objection to the phrase “I apologise” is incomprehensible. Apologise is derived from Greek words meaning to take back one’s words. “I’m sorry” is just as often used as a meaningless platitude, in much the same way as “Have a nice day” or “You’re welcome”. Obviously we all have to endure nasty rude irritating phonecalls. However, there is no difference in meaning between “I apologise” and “I’m sorry” in these circumstances. Neither phrase actually indicates that the speaker either sympathises or even understands or cares how he/she might have upset the listener.

  13. October 3rd 2019 by Alan Rafferty

    Seeing a comment above reminds me of an embarrassing situation a few years ago. Having arrived at a hotel for a week’s course I was given the key to an already occupied room only to hear someone in the shower and ladies underwear on the bed. I beat a hasty retreat and got another room. At about 8 that night there was a knock on the door and a female colleague also on the same course was standing there. She looked at me nonplussed and said, “What are you doing in Rosemary’s room?”. It turned out that the hotel had accidentally switched the rooms but not changed the numbers on their system. We did get an apology though the receptionist was very red faced. We also were ragged mercilessly for the next month when we got back to the office.

  14. October 4th 2019 by Richard Gamlin

    Such an important point Michael. Thank you. I work in health care, many colleges don’t want to say I’m sorry because they see it as admitting liability. Patients at times have every right to be angry. Saying sorry and meaning it disarms people and leads to a reasonable conversation, it often leads to an apology from the patient for expressing anger. Most of all it allows people to resolve the problem and move on

  15. October 7th 2019 by hamish wood

    You’re spot on as ever and it made me think. I have too often used ‘I apologise….’ often unconsciously but knowingly at times when I’m not really sorry or believe I’m the one in the right. Will be changing my approach in future.

  16. October 8th 2019 by DEE

    A few simple but meaningful words to cut out the “fluffiness”: “I’m sorry”, “Thank you” and “Please” (plus maybe… “Can I help you?” and “Could you help me?”) Reducing vagueness & increasing clarity immediately! DEE Diana Cosford xx

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