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I come from a background in customer service and a group of kind people. Is it appropriate on SE sites to say:

I'm sorry your question doesn't meet our standards this is what you might do to correct it: [...]

I've experienced a wide variety of customer support. Are the basic tenets of customer service against the rules on SE sites? Is saying "I'm sorry" against the rules? If it is, are there other ways within the rules to empathize?

I'm not a mod anywhere but I see lots of mods or users with mod powers with the same basic text they repeat to newbs which basically say this the faq, this is my post in meta, read them, fix your question yourself. We are not allowed to plagiarize and give indirect answers; should we be allowed to give indirect comments or comments whose sole purpose is to say your question doesn't fit, read the faq?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Tobias Kienzler, hims056, Martijn Pieters, Rory, BЈовић Jul 7 '13 at 12:20

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The users are getting their money's worth :) –  Joe Frambach Jul 1 '13 at 4:44
I'm not quite sure what you're getting at. If you want to "hold someone's hand" with a detailed comment about what they could do to fix their post, you're most welcome to do so. –  Mat Jul 1 '13 at 4:54
Given the experience I've had with telling people why their question is closed, I can see how some people are going to interpret "I'm sorry but..." as condescending. Just tell them in plain language why you think their question is off-topic. –  Robert Harvey Jul 1 '13 at 5:18
@Mat ok thanks :) –  caseyr547 Jul 1 '13 at 5:20
@RobertHarvey so we are not allowed to empathize? –  caseyr547 Jul 1 '13 at 5:21
I am saying that some people are not going to interpret it as empathy. They're going to choose to be insulted anyway. Just be professional and get to the point as quickly as possible; that's what we ask from people posting questions, so we should ask no less of ourselves. –  Robert Harvey Jul 1 '13 at 5:22
@RobertHarvey but the people i pay $150 an hour (they are very professional) do say i'm sorry isnt that what we are shooting for? –  caseyr547 Jul 1 '13 at 5:27
I haven't said it to you yet, have I? :) Have I appeared professional so far? Note that the article you linked doesn't mention "I'm sorry" at all. –  Robert Harvey Jul 1 '13 at 5:29
I don't know; I find such customer service practices irritating. If companies feel genuine remorse over their own policies, then they should change their policies. Otherwise, I don't want to hear from them that they're sorry about something when they aren't actually sorry about it at all. –  Robert Harvey Jul 1 '13 at 5:36
On the other hand, if a company has made a mistake, and they say "We're very sorry, and we're going to fix it," that's different; I have tremendous respect for that. –  Robert Harvey Jul 1 '13 at 5:38
@caseyr547 if a newbie posts such a bad question that they get -5, they should be sorry IMO –  Uooo Jul 1 '13 at 5:40
Naturally, nothing prevents you from using whatever language you feel is necessary to communicate with other users, so long as it's not abusive. –  Robert Harvey Jul 1 '13 at 5:42
(IMO) SO is not a customer service company. It is a collaborative platform to improve ourselves and share knowledge. And I'm perfectly fine if someone points my mistake directly instead of saying many fancy talks. –  taskinoor Jul 1 '13 at 6:21
Your premise is faulty. ****This isn't customer service.**** Full stop, the end. –  Josh Caswell Jul 1 '13 at 7:10
If you have concrete proposals for how to reword the system messages such as closure notices and / or boilerplate texts used by many commenters, go wild! Suggest all the improvements you can come up with. If you can improve the tone without adding too much chaff, I'll certainly support you with my vote. –  tripleee Jul 1 '13 at 9:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 25 down vote accepted

This particular form of faux-empathy does have some presence on Stack Exchange. By far the most common form can be found in the message, "Sorry, we are no longer accepting questions from this account."

Beyond that, I'm kinda with Robert on this - I apologize to folks when their question is closed incorrectly and I'm about to re-open it... Not when I'm closing it for good reason. "I'm sorry you're bad at asking questions" just sounds like rubbing salt in a wound.

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And after all that's been said and done, you're just the part of me I can't let go. –  Tim Post Jul 1 '13 at 7:10

There is nothing wrong with saying "I'm sorry, but <fill in issue here>". As shog9 noted there is even a place for this faux-empathy in the pre-programmed error messages for some situations.

You will note that I use the wording myself quite often, although I often take it back a step. Instead of saying I'm sorry for my close vote (or whatever) I'll say I'm sorry the user is having a rough go of their first question (or whatever the case is). That's something I'm actually sorry about. Behind that I include a description of whatever the issue was. Some issues are fixable and include a call to action, others just are not and the education is just so they do not make the same mistake next time.

In short, there is nothing wrong with saying kind things.

The real issue here is that we also need to say true things. This subject was raised with you, not because of the language of apology or nice tone, but because of the content of what you were apologizing for.

someone needs to apologize for the random closures might as well be me -- caseyr547

We know you don't like or agree with the practice of closing questions or our site specific scoping guidelines. Before this issue of comments came up, you had disagreed with quite a number of other closures. In response we asked you to take your concerns to meta. Rather than duking it out in comments and confusing newcomers to the site, we wanted you to take any objections to the way things were being handled to meta where our community could consider your concerns. Rather than doing that, you started "apologizing" for closures that you disagreed with.

My response to you was along those lines:

No, no-one is going to apologize for "random" closures because they are not random. We even go so far as to comment on every single one explaining exactly what the issues are. If you disagree with the issues the venue to discuss that is meta, NOT comments on new users posts. -- Caleb

Anybody is welcome to follow the transcript to see how we ended up here. My concern now is that this appeal to SO meta is over the wrong issue.

The issue that needs to be taken to meta is your objections to our question scoping guidelines and usage of the closure system. There is no law against apologizing or being nice, but our guidelines on questions haven't changed. If they do, the place that will happen is our site meta, not comments on new questions.

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as you point out i asked a very structured question one i thought about for more than a moment while i know your intentions of following me here are noble i find it very creepy all the same –  caseyr547 Jul 1 '13 at 7:58
Donno if he actually had to follow you here, @casey; my guess is, he was already here... waiting... And that's not creepy at all. –  Shog9 Jul 1 '13 at 9:12
Although another user answered it well and I didn't feel the need to chip in, I saw Casey's first post to MSO because I was already here. This one I would probably have seen anyway, but was first alerted by Casey's own link to it in C.SE chat. His third post I also saw because I was on MSO for something else already. –  Caleb Jul 1 '13 at 9:17
@caseyr547 um, how is this 'creepy'? Caleb gave time and effort to write his response to help. As Shog9 states - not creepy at all! –  user226423 Jul 1 '13 at 23:25
@Damien maybe its not creepy to you or Shog9 but it is to me. right after this the mods say we suggest you dont say sorry then a couple of hours later they suspended me for in part not taking their suggestions...so yeah people following me taking the things i say out of context then retaliating against me when i go to mso is creepy to me –  caseyr547 Jul 1 '13 at 23:38
@caseyr547 each to their own. –  user226423 Jul 1 '13 at 23:54
‘There is no law…’ (in the last paragraph)? –  Andriy M Aug 9 '13 at 5:48

In a pragmatic sense, it would be better to politely but directly get to the point of why the question does not meet the standards and what can be done to improve on it.

From my own perspective, the starting phrase "I'm sorry, but..." seems almost scripted, which is why, from my own perspective at least, I find that practice irritating at the very least.

In my opinion, a practical direct assistance type of answer is far more valuable and useful than a 'scripted' politeness response(for want of a better term).

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