How to Apologize

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How to Apologize to a Customer for Bad Service + Templates

You crave those moments when you exceed your customers’ expectations and successfully carry out your brand vision. On the flip side, there’s nothing worse than failing your customers and not living up to your customer service goals.

We’re all human and bound to make mistakes, which is why it’s so important to know how to apologize to a customer for bad service. In this business environment, it’s not enough to just admit wrongdoing when a customer has a bad experience.

To stand out from your competitors and reduce churn, you need to show your customers that you care about them by taking the extra step and crafting a professional, heartfelt apology. Even the most forgiving of customers will only tolerate so many poor experiences before they take their business elsewhere. In fact, 73% of customers say they will abandon a brand after 3 negative experiences.

To reduce churn and increase retention rates, you need to learn how to apologize to a customer for bad service. By avoiding some common mistakes, following apology best practices, and leveraging tools and resources to make your job easier, you can provide a better customer experience and demonstrate your commitment to your customers’ satisfaction.

Common Mistakes Businesses Make When Apologizing

Many businesses will make an apology for bad service but do so in a way that leaves a sour taste in the customer’s mouth. Still worse, sometimes an apology achieves the opposite intended effect and ends up driving a customer further away. When making an apology to a customer for bad service, you’ll want to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Playing down your customer’s feelings (e.g., “No one has ever complained about this before.”)
  • Failing to own up to your mistakes (e.g., “What happened wasn’t our fault.”)
  • Making promises you can’t possibly keep (e.g., “We promise that this will never happen again.”)
  • Keeping the apology vague (e.g., “A problem occurred in our processes, but we’ve identified the issue and it’s been resolved.”)
  • Apologizing too much (e.g., “We’re so sorry. You can’t imagine how sorry we are. We just want to let you know how sorry we are. Sorry sorry sorry.”)
  • Offering a begrudging apology (e.g., “We didn’t do anything wrong, but we’re sorry if that will make you feel better.”)

A superficial or insincere apology is sometimes worse than no apology at all. Additionally, avoid trying to buy off your customer’s feelings by offering gifts in lieu of an apology. According to research conducted by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, 37% of customers who complained due to poor service reported that they were satisfied after receiving compensation for their issues. However, the number of customers who reported satisfaction jumped to 74% when they also received an apology.

Don’t just sweep problems under the rug. By avoiding these common mistakes and adhering to best practices when making an apology, your company will reap the benefits in the form of increased client satisfaction, reduced churn, and greater revenue.

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  4. ↑ Bachman, G. F., & Guerrero, L. K. (2006). Forgiveness, apology, and communicative responses to hurtful events. Communication Reports, 19(1), 45-56.
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  9. ↑ Bachman, G. F., & Guerrero, L. K. (2006). Forgiveness, apology, and communicative responses to hurtful events. Communication Reports, 19(1), 45-56.
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  12. ↑ Hareli, S., & Eisikovits, Z. (2006). The role of communicating social emotions accompanying apologies in forgiveness. Motivation and Emotion, 30(3), 189-197.
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  17. ↑ Bachman, G. F., & Guerrero, L. K. (2006). Forgiveness, apology, and communicative responses to hurtful events. Communication Reports, 19(1), 45-56.
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Example: How to Apologize Professionally in an Email

“Mr. Torrance,

I’m writing to you in regards to our last meeting. (an explanation). Our team was not adequately prepared, and we presented egregiously incorrect data. (acknowledgment of the mistake). We wasted both our time and yours, and compromised your trust in us—for that, we are truly sorry. (expression of regret). We accept the consequences of this mistake, and have since prepared an accurate report. We’re also prepared to offer you a discount on your next round of billing (accountability and restoration).

Additionally, we’ve changed our internal process for meeting preparation, and can assure you we will not make this mistake again. (improvement). We apologize. We hope we re-earn your trust, and continue collaborating for our mutual success. (forgiveness).

1. Be yourself. Whether you’re writing an apology in customer service, sales, or any other department, it’s important to be yourself. Don’t try to don a super-formal personality, or speak in a way that’s unnatural to you. It has a chance of coming across as insincere, and will almost certainly invite a colder, less sincere response. If you’re truly regretful, your words will demonstrate it.

2. Forget templates. We’ve got a lot of great template guides on this site, helping you write out-of-office messages and networking emails, but we actively discourage you from using templates to write an apology. If your apology email seems like it was slightly modified from some generic sample on the internet, it’s going to be rebuffed. Even if your message ends up being a bit formulaic, it’s better to start from scratch.

3. Express humility. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. And in a professional environment, we usually try to cover that up—making it seem like we know more than we actually do, or that we’re more capable than we actually are. An apology email isn’t the time or place for this excess confidence; instead, try to express humility, and acknowledge your own weaknesses. It’s going to make your message much easier to digest.

4. Don’t grovel or be dramatic. That said, it’s also important to avoid groveling. Don’t let your email become dramatic. Phrasing like, “I’m so, so sorry for this. Please accept my apology, from the bottom of my heart. I beg for your forgiveness, even though I don’t deserve it” just isn’t necessary. It creates an awkward atmosphere, and detracts from the main point of the conversation. You’re better off describing your mistake and explaining how you’re going to prevent it in the future than simply adding more flamboyant or emotional wording.

5. When in doubt, keep it simple. If you’re agonizing how to phrase or organize the email, or if you’re confused about how much detail to include, follow the general rule of keeping things simple. Concise, forward sentences are going to be much more effective—and much better received—when writing an apology email. Occasionally, scenarios will demand more of an explanation (like if you’re citing the procedural flaws that led to a mistake), but you should still strive to only include the information that’s necessary. If your recipient needs clarification, they can ask for it.

Mastering how to apologize professionally in an email isn’t easy. Apologizing in generally usually isn’t. However, if you follow these best practices and keep things simple and sincere, you should be in a great position.