Through my years of working to make great customer experiences, one of the most common things you will need to do is apologize for a mistake, poor experience or just because the person is having a bad day.

I have found that apologies are very simple to do, however, not many people do them right.

The first step to a good apology, is to say “I am very sorry.”.  Now the most important part about this phrase is not the word ‘sorry’, not the word ‘am’, not the word ‘very’ and definitely not the word ‘I’.  The most important part of this is the period(‘.’) at the end of the sentence.

People ruin their apologies by saying “I am very sorry for this inconvenience”, “I am very sorry for this delay”, “I am very sorry that you did not understand this” and so on.  When you add something like this on the end, you take blame away from you and put it on either the customer or an unknown disaster creating monster that is out to get the customer.

Accept that the customer is upset and just wants to be heard and to their knowledge this is not their fault.

The next thing I find people do backwards is instead of  fixing the problem, they explain why the problem occurred.  Take this chance to be a hero to the customer, as yo have already started your email out correctly by apologizing.

Explain what you have done to fix their problem.  The key to this is that when reading emails, people tend to skim through emails, so if they are going to take away 1 or 2 things from the email, it should be that, A) you are sorry and B) you have fixed.

Now if you want, you can explain why this problem happened to this customer.  However, if the customer is at fault, find a way to explain how to do it properly next time without belittling them.  Place the blame on you and find and fix the reason why they were not aware of the correct way to do it.  Let them know that you will make this more clear for future orders.

Finally, ask if this has solved their problem and if there is anything else you can help them with.

To recap, if you follow the 4 simple steps of:
1) Say you are sorry. PERIOD.
2) Fix the problem or explain exactly how to fix the problem
3) Educate on why this happened
4) Ensure you have answered their questions and let them know you are willing to help with any other issues they may be having.

For some other great resources on how to apologize check out:

37signals: Apologizing like a human, not a corporation
Randy Pausch – Inspirational Speech on Oprah (Starts at 7:40)

If you have any other ideas about how to apologize or have a good apology rant or praise, let me know in the comments

5 thoughts on “Customer Service: How to Apologize through email

  1. Greg – This is a great article. You are preaching accountability. To take it a step further, whoever gets the complaint, owns it. Even, if it is “not their department” he/she should take ownership and see the problem through, even if others actually resolve the issue. Thank you for sharing!

    Shep Hyken, author of “The Amazement Revolution” –

  2. I think saying an unconditional sorry is really the best way – just as you noted as well. It shouldn’t come across as just the usual and impersonal text module, but it has to convince the customer you mean what you say. I think more importantly, it should also offer a real solution and the follow-up has to be solid, meaning whatever the solution was it has to be carried out or all the nice words make no sense.

    One more thing, usually the pre-formatted greeting and good-bye text modules “frame” the content of the email – I always find it annoying if the format of those text modules differs in colour or font from the actual content, because it makes it more obvious that part of the email was pre-written. But that’s just a really minor detail.

  3. I identified your article searching on google for just this details. I’m going to add you to favorites, I will read good from some of your respective other posts too. Many thanks!

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