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How to Apologize to Customers Effectively

Note: This blog post was originally published on Nov. 18, 2015, and as it is one of our most popular posts, we have updated it to include the latest research, up-to-date statistics and best practices in this topic.
‘I’m sorry.’ The two most inadequate words in the English language.
Beth Revis

Apologies are important, but often times “I’m sorry” is not enough. Just repeating the phrase over and over again will come off as insincere—which can be difficult, because it’s hard to be genuine when you don’t always feel sorry.

But there are so many instances in which you have to apologize to a customer. Sometimes you have to deny a request. Other times your company fumbled with an order. Perhaps you made a customer wait on hold for a little too long. The list goes on.

It can seem overwhelming to figure out how to apologize to customers. But an apology is the key to showing a customer your deep commitment to their satisfaction. Instead of shoveling through insincere apologies with brute force, use our recipe for delivering a genuine and effective customer service apology.

Avoid the Non-Apology

False-apology. Notpology. Fauxpology.

There are a number of names to communicate the same thing – an insincere and grating apology. You may, unfortunately, recognize the non-apology as a popular business apology. It’s important to be able to realize what kind of language actually conveys regret, remorse, and humility, and which words twist a would-be apology into one of dismissal and condescension.

Don’t use language that removes you or your company from responsibility. Avoid saying things like:

  • I am sorry you feel that way.
  • I am sorry if you are offended.
  • Mistakes were made.
  • It is unfortunate that things turned out this way.

Before delivering an apology, check your words for any hint of defensiveness. If you are feeling testy or on edge, there’s a chance that it’s coming out in the form of the dreaded non-apology.

Recommended for you: 6 Useful Examples of Apology Letters to Customers

Listen Carefully

The bad news is, active listening can be difficult.

If you are a live chat agent who is having a hard time listening, this can be especially problematic, because it’s your job to get to the bottom of a customer’s issue. The only way to give a great apology is to start by truly understanding the problem at hand.

The good news is, there are number of steps you can take to flex your active listening skills. (You can check out the training activities that focus on listening skills in our [eBook] 50 Customer Service Training Activities for Live Chat and Telephone Teams.)

According to writer Elizabeth Bernstein, the rules for active listening that apply to live chat include:

  • Legitimize the other person’s feelings— This is as simple as saying something along the lines of, “that must have been frustrating for you.”
  • Use minimal encouragers“I see”, “I understand“, and “I hear you” are all small phrases that show you are engaged with a customer’s issue when he becomes long-winded.
  • Periodically paraphrase — An easy way to make sure you understand the issue at hand is by restating the issue or clarifying it. Being able to repeat after the customer, and saying “I’m sorry you’re feeling X because we did Y” is powerful.
  • Resist the temptation to “fix it”— Though it’s your job to eventually patch everything up, this instinct should kick in after the apology.

Active listening allows you to know exactly why you are issuing out an apology. Is the customer angry that you denied a request? Did you take too long to meet their needs? The customer is much more likely to accept your apology if they believe that you truly understand their struggle, so don’t skip this important first step!

Take Responsibility

We know whatever you’re apologizing for is probably not your fault, but you are acting as the face of the company and the blame has to go somewhere. So apologize on behalf of your team. Acknowledge where things went wrong on your end, even if it’s something that seems insignificant.

For example, if you have to tell a customer that a warranty doesn’t cover accidents, you might say:

I’m sorry our warranty didn’t properly communicate its limits. I will forward this concern to the appropriate department to ensure that we make this clearer for our customers.

Taking responsibility shows customers you don’t take their issue lightly.

If you want to go a step further and truly impress your customers, give them your name. For example, if your customer is upset with a defective product you may say something like this:

I’m very sorry that you’re having issues with our product. My name is Danielle and I’m going to make sure that we get this taken care of for you today.

By putting your name on the line, you show tremendous accountability and commitment to resolution of your customers’ problems.

Offer Explanations, Not Excuses

Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
Benjamin Franklin

It’s important that if a customer wants to know why something is not meeting their needs, you must be able tell them why things have gone wrong. You should always cushion an explanation with adequate measures of blame, so that any attempt at transparency does not come across as an excuse:

This happened because of X, but this is no reason to make you wait for 2 hours. I deeply apologize. I will forward this issue to a supervisor immediately.

Remember, the difference between explanation and excuse is that an excuse is not asked for and is used to deflect blame.

Communicate the Solution

Tell your customer what comes next, or what his options are. At the end of the day, he just wants to know that you are actually going to make things right.

Use the following sincere apology examples to express your action:

We understand how you feel, we’re very sorry. We’re going to take care of this for you right now.
We’re deeply sorry about *Issue*. Let me speak with my supervisor to see how we can correct this for you.

Thank the Customer

This may seem small, and like something that’s easy to overlook or forget. But if you assess the situation, the customer still stuck with you through the chat, no matter how upset he was. Let your customer know you appreciate his patience – it shows that you appreciate both the value of his time and his custom.

Recommended for you: 4 Ideas to Help You Celebrate Customer Appreciation Day

Use a Customizable Live Chat Script

One of the best ways to efficiently apologize is by using an effective and customizable live chat script. Saying you’re sorry is easier when you have strategically developed apologies to build upon. With a script, you lower the risk of offending a customer with a haphazard or insincere apology.

If your team does not already have a script, you can use Comm100’s 101 Ready-to-Use Live Chat Scripts to help you get started.

Download now: 101 Ready-to-Use Live Chat Scripts for Both Sales and Customer Service

Download now: 101 Ready-to-Use Live Chat Scripts for Both Sales and Customer Service

Wondering how to put these apology statements into your chats? Our live chat scripts template provides you with the ready-to-use scripts that can help you apologize to customers effectively.

Download Now
Carla Jerez

About Carla Jerez

Carla Jerez is a senior content writer at Comm100. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Florida State University and has years' experience writing for the SaaS industry. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, traveling, or playing around on Photoshop. Connect with her on LinkedIn.