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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Nick Northrop, National Costs Manager, explains how one small word, ‘sorry’, could be more effectively used as a power for redress, if used correctly and in a genuine, timely manner. 

Nick Northrop Photo 2Some of you will remember the 1976 song by Elton John, ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. “OH NO” I hear you shout, of course you’re not that old! Yet the song title would appear to be increasingly relevant in this day and age.

Law firms, like most service industry based businesses, have employed staff to provide client care or customer services technicians to oversee complaints because they understand that good client care and customer service has a real value to add to the client’s perception of the company. A complaint not handled correctly; with professionalism, tact and adequate skill, can be disastrous and financially costly for a law firm these days. Nobody wants the Solicitors Regulation Authority or The Legal Ombudsman breathing fire down your neck.

The books and lectures on customer care recommend that you need to make sure you apply empathy during the act of apologising by showing that you really understand how and why a person is raising an issue. Validate and acknowledge that something is a real problem. Possibly the worst example of an apology is an empty apology, such as: “I’m sorry that you feel that way” or “I’m sorry that you think I’m not being clear”. Simply put, there is no ‘you’ in apology. Also, an apology offered very late can be empty and even hurtful.

Recently, I have prepared several Bills of Costs relating to brain injuries as a result of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, leading to Cerebral Palsy. These all involved children, of a variety of ages. Some left tetraplegic and others with severe learning and physical disabilities which have dramatically changed theirs and their families lives. Such cases, are commonly high in value, brought to fruition over several years and in some case over a decade. Generally, this is due to the NHS’s response to such claims.

What I have recently seen and what I personally find hard to swallow is twofold. On one case, a NHS Chief Executive issued an apology letter over 10yrs after the negligent act. This was issued at the end of the case and after they put the Claimant and their family through a full denial of breach of duty, causation and quantum dispute and genetic testing. On another case, a Chief Executive refused to issue an apology to the parents. I could only imagine a parent’s response in such cases.

So, why in this day and age can’t the NHS apologise for their acts and or omissions earlier with true empathy and with real meaning? Is now the right time to use the taxpayer’s money to send the NHS Chief Executives on a Customer Services course?

To contact Nick Northtrop on any cost matter or the issues raised in this article, please click here.