Customer Experience News & Trends

The 4 worst — and 1 very best — ways to apologize to customers

Most companies don’t like to admit they’ve done something wrong. So their attempts to apologize and quickly rebuild customer relationships fall short.

But if companies owned up to mistakes, sincerely apologized and fixed the issues, customers would stay more loyal than if they never had problems, researchers found.

“It’s hard to admit our transgressions — to look someone in the eye and offer a sincere apology,” says Andy Molinsky, author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence. “But apologies are essential for repairing relationships …. They show that you value the relationship and that other person’s point of view”

Failed attempts

Yet, so many companies and front-line employees make “I’m sorry” statements that aren’t actual apologies, Molinsky has found in his research. They often try to save face — and end up giving one of these four half-baked apologies:

  • The Empty Apology is full of form, but lacks actual substance. “We’re sorry this happened. I said we’re sorry.”
  • The Excessive Apology is about how the situation made the apologizer feel, rather than about what was done wrong. “I’m so sorry. I feel so bad. I can’t believe this has happened.”
  • The Incomplete Apology only hits one of the three parts (see below) of a real apology. “We’re sorry about this.”
  • The Denial is a non-apology. Anger or self-protection are usually the reasons behind giving it. “This wasn’t our fault.”

What must be said

Researchers found that a genuine, effective apology includes three important elements:

  • Responsibility. Someone needs to take responsibility for his, her or the company’s role in the offense.
  • Regret. You need to show some kind of regret for what’s happened.
  • Redemption. You want to ask for forgiveness for what’s happened.

Example: “We didn’t send the order on schedule. I’m sorry this caused a delay in your production schedule. I hope that you can forgive us in time.”

After the apology, front-line employees want to spring into action on the resolution.

In the above example, they might say, “For now, though, I want to get to work right away on expediting what you need. Here’s what I will do immediately.”

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