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Ruby Newell-Legner’s book, Understanding Customers, tells us that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.
The thing is, as much as we try and prevent them – and boy, do we try – negative experiences are still bound to pop up every once in a while. When they do, we can put our best foot forward and begin to make amends by apologizing to our customers.
Many companies dread writing apology letters to customers out of fear of admitting wrongdoing or accepting blame for an unpleasant situation. However, an apology is not the end of the world – in fact, it is far from it.
A successful apology can turn a negative experience into a positive one, an upset customer into a loyal one, and a bad reputation into a great one. Here are some examples of apology letters for poor service, so that you will know what to do should your business need to respond to a similar situation.
Did your customer lose an hour of their day being transferred from representative to representative to solve a seemingly simple issue? Is your customer upset after an experience with a rude and unhelpful employee or manager?
Strategic management consulting company, McKinsey, reported that 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. No matter who is in the “right” in a complicated situation, it is important to give the customer a sincere apology.
Let’s compare two examples of an apology letter to a customer who feels that he or she has been treated unfairly:
I am very sorry for what happened. It was unacceptable and will never happen again.
The representative that you spoke with didn’t actually hang up the phone – I was informed that he tried to transfer your call but it must not have gone through. Since the call dropped a second time, you might want to check your phone service provider. We pride ourselves on our service, and would never do something like that.
Again, I am very sorry for the inconvenience. Please contact customer support for any further concerns you might have – our customer service agents are always very happy to help.
In this example, Ashley was very vague when approaching the customer’s issue. Instead of empathizing with Catherine, she tried to shift the blame to the customer’s phone service provider, and deny the company’s role in Catherine’s bad experience. In the end, Ashley left the issue unresolved, and the customer unsatisfied.
Let’s have a look at what happens when we try that again:
On behalf of [INSERT COMPANY NAME], I want to extend my sincerest apologies for the negative experience that you had with our customer service agent, Peter.
I realize that Peter was unhelpful in solving your issue, and that when you asked to speak with a manager, he hung up the phone instead of transferring your call. I understand your frustration at having not been properly directed to an on-duty supervisor, and your even greater frustration at having to wait on hold again, only for the call to drop almost half an hour later.
At [INSERT COMPANY NAME], we pride ourselves on giving our 100% every day to ensure that our customers’ needs are being met. I know that we have let you down, and for that we are very sorry.
We do our best to train each of our representatives on how to properly handle our customers’ issues, including how to escalate problems that they are unable to assist with. Your concern was not handled properly, and we are going to take steps to ensure that this situation does not repeat itself.
As of this Friday, we are going to require our customer service representatives to ask for a call-back number at the onset of each conversation in case the call drops. We will also be holding a mandatory review session to make sure our representatives are aware of the proper procedure for transferring calls.
I want to thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We are always looking for ways to better our service, and your feedback is an invaluable part of that process.
Should you need help in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me directly, as I will be very happy to assist you personally with anything you need.
Customer Service Manager
+1 (987) 000-1234
By being specific about what happened and addressing exactly what Catherine’s negative experience was, Ashley came across as compassionate and understanding of the customer’s issue. She validated and related to Catherine’s feelings, and showed her the steps that the company would take to ensure that the inconvenience would not happen again. She even gave Catherine her personal contact information so that she could reach her directly in the future. Great job, Ashley!
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When we are approached by a customer who is upset by a defective product or service, responding with a professional apology that offers the customer a hassle-free solution is an important part of ensuring customer retention.
Which of these two example apologies do you think did it better?
Thank you for contacting us about your defective Light Up Holiday Frame. I have refunded you for the inconvenience. If you would like to order a new one, please visit our website at www.myholidayphotos.com, or call us to place your order over the phone.
Thanks, and I’m sorry again.
Customer Service Representative
In this first example, Janis seems to be looking for the quickest way to take Zachary’s issue off her plate. She refunded him without further question and redirected him to the website, leaving him more likely to abandon his purchase given this annoying extra step. She also left him without a solution as far as what to do with the damaged product.
Let’s see if we can fix things with Zachary:
Thank you for contacting us about your defective Light Up Holiday Picture Frame. We are truly sorry that the item that you received did not function as promised. We understand your disappointment, and apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused you.
Before we ship any product, it undergoes several stages of quality checks. It is our intention to provide only the highest quality items to our customers, and we regret that your product slipped past our quality measures.
We have gone ahead and shipped you a new Light Up Holiday Picture Frame, which should arrive at your specified address in 3-5 business days. When you receive it, please return the defective frame in the enclosed box.
We understand that preparing for the holidays is a time-sensitive matter, and will be sending you a coupon for $10 off your next purchase in hopes of compensating for the inconvenience.
Thank you again for bringing this issue to our attention—please don’t hesitate to contact with any further concerns.
Customer Service Representative
This time, Janis provided the customer with a hassle-free replacement. She explained the company’s procedures for quality checks, helping Zachary rest assured that he could expect his product to arrive fully functional next time. After gauging how upset Zachary was about his defective purchase, she went the extra mile to show him that his satisfaction mattered by offering him a complimentary coupon.
There are several scenarios in which a customer might receive an item that was shipped late or improperly. Maybe an item that was reported as “available” on the website is actually out of stock. Maybe a snowstorm delayed shipment.
Whatever the case, follow our next good apology example, and avoid the bad one.
We are sorry that you have not received your Rainbow Child’s Ceiling Fan yet. The item has yet to arrive from our provider and unfortunately still has not been shipped from our facilities. Please check back in later with us to see if it has arrived.
Here, Edward failed to give Alice any sort of information about what caused the shipping delay and when her product would arrive. By telling her to check back later, Edward created one unsatisfied customer who would find herself once again waiting in the dreaded queue for any answers.
Let’s try that again:
We are very sorry that you still have not received the Rainbow Child’s Ceiling Fan that you purchased from us on our website this past Thursday.
The demand for this popular item has exceeded our expectations, and our stock is depleted. However, we will receive a new shipment of fans next Friday, which we will expedite to our customers.
We understand that as a loyal customer, when you make a purchase you expect to receive your product in a timely manner. We know that we have let you down, and for that we are very sorry.
Please advise us on whether you would like to cancel your order or have us ship the ceiling fan once it becomes available. You can click here at any time for live shipping and service updates. Again, we apologize for this inconvenience.
Customer Service Representative
In this example, Edward explained the reason for the delayed shipment, and showed awareness and concern for the inconvenience that he knew it would cause Alice. He presented Alice with a plan to get her the product as soon as possible, and gave her details about when it would be in stock. Finally, by including the link to shipment updates and tracking, Edward gave Alice the tools that she needed to accompany the progress of her order without needing to contact customer service again. Nice work, Edward!
Billing issues can be very frustrating for a customer who has placed an order with your company. Yet, it is a very common error. Should a billing issue arise, be sure to contact your customer as soon as it comes to your attention.
Here is a sample poor billing error apology, and how to fix it:
Thank you for contacting customer support. I am very sorry that you were charged twice for your purchase – I have no idea why that might have happened as it is not a common occurrence at our company. Regardless, please provide me with your credit card information so that I can complete the refund.
Customer Service Representative
In this apology letter, Katie renounced responsibility of the billing error, and revealed a lack of expertise in her company’s system by asking Megan to respond with sensitive information that was not needed to complete the refund (Check our tips in case you need to say no to a refund request from customers.) You can make this sort of apology more professional by writing the following:
Thank you for contacting customer support. We are very sorry that you were charged twice for the same product. We understand that the mistake was on our end, and it is not a mistake that we take lightly.
According to our technical team, the error was due to a computer glitch in our automated billing system. As a result of this issue, and in order to prevent this from happening in the future, new updates are being made to the system. In the meantime, we have refunded you the full amount of one of the charges, or $49.99 plus tax. Please allow 1-3 business days for the amount to appear back on your card.
We hope that this will be sufficient to correct the error and address any inconvenience this may have caused you. Thank you for bringing this to our attention—it will help us improve our operations and services.
We very much appreciate your business. If there are any other issues that need to be addressed, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Customer Service Representative
This time, Katie’s apology was sincere and precise. By telling Megan what was going on with the system, Katie made sure that she and the customer were on the same page. In refunding her quickly and without hesitation, Katie also spared Megan the worry and stress of wondering if she would ever get her money back.
From canned food products to Samsung Galaxy’s Note7 recall, product recalls are a common source of both public and personalized customer apology letters.
Should your company have a product that needs to be recalled, use these example letters as guidelines to know what to do and what not to do when composing your own letter of apology.
We are sorry for what has happened with our series of tuna cans, expiration dates February 2019 to May 2019.
Although we work extremely hard in producing products that our customers will love, the seafood industry can be tough. The contamination of the ocean waters with pollution sometimes means the contamination of the fish, an epidemic which has grown in recent years.
Even so, this is a one-time incident. We will continue to strive to be industry leaders, and will take preventative measures to make sure that this does not happen again.
To all of those who were affected, we are very sorry. We hope that you will continue to remain loyal to our brand.
President and CEO.
As you can see from this letter, John is an apology novice. He made excuses for his product, potentially frightened his customers with ominous details, and failed to provide his customers with a long or short-term solution. With a letter like this, why should his customers stay loyal to his brand? Let’s see if we can change this up:
Dear valued customer,
At [INSERT COMPANY NAME], our mission is to provide our customers with only the freshest, highest quality canned seafood products. That being said, our number one priority is the safety and satisfaction of our customers while consuming our products. I regret to say that our most recent series of canned tuna fell short on that promise.
Unfortunately, our series of tuna printed with the expiration dates February 2019 through May 2019, have been found to contain unsafe mercury levels. The fish that we use are caught wild and not farmed, and we test our products extensively before making them available to the public. We are very sorry that this series of cans has slipped past our quality standards.
While we regret very much this discovery, we are glad to open this line of communication to ensure the safety of our customers.
If you have in your possession any cans of tuna with these expiration dates, you can return them to the supermarket where they were purchased, or ship them free of charge to the following address for a full refund:
If you have consumed one or many cans of our tuna with these expiration dates, you do not need to seek medical attention, but it is advisable to not continue the consumption.
To our valued customers who were affected and unaffected alike, we are very sorry. We will continue to develop the products that our customers love, but with more extensive quality testing to ensure that this situation remains an isolated incident.
We thank you all for your loyalty over these 25 years that we have been in business—we will work hard to not disappoint you again.
President and CEO
This time, John excelled in letting his customers know that they are his priority. By evoking his company’s mission statement, he simultaneously reminded buyers of why they were loyal to the company and characterized the recall as a rare incident. By giving his customers specific information on the recall and how to act, John took the first step in regaining trust between his business and his customers.
It is important for your company to apologize for the inconvenience that a cancelation of a service or event can cause customers. Like product recalls, cancelations can happen for a number of reasons, such as customer safety (such as with a flight), poor customer turnout or ratings (such as with a TV program), or the absence of a key participant in an event (such as in a workshop). Take a look at these final examples of business apology letters for cancelling a service or event.
Unfortunately, the workshop that you were planning on attending was cancelled. We are very sorry for any inconvenience that this might cause.
We do our best to always deliver our workshops as scheduled. However sometimes things don’t go as planned.
Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this cancellation and we would be happy to assist you.
In this instance, Brian’s apology letter was very impersonal. It also left the customer unsure of if, when, or how he would recuperate the money that he paid for a seat at this event. Here is Brian’s second try:
I am very sorry to inform you that our workshop, “Practicing Positivity: The Art of a Happy Work Environment,” has been cancelled due to the hurricane that is set to land this Friday.
Because of the unsafe weather conditions, we will not be able to proceed with the event as scheduled. I am sorry for any inconvenience that this cancelation may cause. The safety of our guests and speakers is our number one concern.
We are hoping to be able to reschedule this workshop for a later date, and will send you an email as soon as we have worked out the details regarding this change. For now, we are issuing refunds to all our guests who were planning on attending this event. You should see the total value of your purchase returned to your bank account in 1-3 business days.
We want to thank you very much for showing interest in our event—your purchase helps us plan future workshops and events. Please click here to see our schedule of upcoming workshops this month.
This time, the apology letter was specific about the events surrounding the cancelation. Given both the quick reimbursement and the mention of rescheduling the event, Brian left Alexander with a good impression of his company’s efficiency and organizational skills. By including a link to the schedule of upcoming workshops, Brian managed to turn this letter of apology into an opportunity to promote future events.
When we write an apology letter to a customer, we are forced to reflect on our mission statement and brand identity, and to address how we are or are not meeting the customer’s needs. Ultimately, by crafting the perfect apology letter we show that we are willing to address life’s difficult moments head-on, and to put customer satisfaction first and foremost.
Check your company’s past apology letters and see how they compare to these examples. It’s never too late to become an apology master. For more information, be sure to read our blog post, How to Apologize to Customers Effectively.
What other apologies would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below!
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