Apology statements: how to apologise to a customer

Mistakes happen. Errors occur. Maybe the customer received damaged goods, suffered a billing error, or was a victim of a service outage. Whatever the reason, you now need to apologise to your customer.

All too often, though, saying ‘I’m sorry’ alone isn’t enough to appease a slighted customer. It comes across as insincere and perfunctory. This problem is exacerbated when the interaction is happening via live chat, with no vocal or physical cues to convey your candour.

This is where effective apology statements become essential. So, here’s how to apologise to your customers via live chat.

1.    Conveying understanding

When you need to apologise to a customer, it’s tempting to dive straight in and get the ‘I’m sorry’ out of the way. But how can you apologise for a problem you don’t even understand?

The first of the apology statements should involve generating an understanding of the issue and validating the customer’s feelings. 

Apology statements:

• If I am understanding you correctly [paraphrase their complaint]

• I understand how [customer’s feelings – i.e frustrating, upsetting, disruptive] this problem has been for you

• I understand how [issue] must have impacted your [workflows etc.]

2.    Accepting responsibility

After proving that you understand the problem, comes the apology. It’s not enough to simply type ‘I’m sorry’ and be done with it. In fact, there are a lot of ways that this can go wrong.

The key to these apology statements is two-fold. First, don’t hide from the responsibility or shift the blame. Second, tailor each apology to each customer and each issue.

Apology statements:

• I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with [issue]

• I am sorry that we failed to [cause of issue] and you’ve had to deal with the outcome

• I’m sorry this failure on our part has impacted you and your [workflows etc.]

3.    Explain and solve

Saying sorry for the problem in customer service is not enough of an apology, however. There’s more that needs saying. Apologies are all well and good, but you still need to prove that you mean it.

The more you apologise to a customer, the less it means. It’s only effective if you solve the problem. So, explain why the problem occurred and how you are addressing it — for this customer personally, and to prevent a recurrence.

Apology statements:

• The issue happened because we [what caused the issue]. To prevent it from happening again [what you will do]

• We care deeply about your experience and we failed to meet our regular quality standards. We should have been more careful, and I’m very sorry for the issues it has caused you.

4.    Gratitude

Finally, you should always end your apology by showing gratitude to the customer. Thanking the customer is a great way to turn the experience from a frustrating issue, into water under the bridge. This is also a good opportunity to reiterate your apology.

The customer has taken the time to get in touch, sit through the chat with you, and allow you to make things right. By thanking them, you show the customer that you appreciate this, and start to return the chat to a state of positive equilibrium.

Apology statements:

• Again, I’m deeply sorry this has happened to you. It’s not the experience we wish to create for any of our customers. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and allowing us to address it.

• Thank you for bearing with us through this incident. If there’s anything else I can help you with, please let me know. 

Anti-apology statements

That’s how to apologise to a customer. But there are few pitfalls to be wary of. As a bonus, here are a few statements you should avoid.

• I’m sorry but…

‘But’ makes this statement an excuse, not an apology.

When you say ‘I’m sorry but’ it tells the customer you aren’t interested in helping them or taking responsibility. Click To Tweet

• I’m sorry you feel that way

You aren’t accepting responsibility, or even recognising there’s a problem or issue that you need to fix.

'I'm sorry you feel that way' is a non-apology. You're belittling the customer's feelings. Click To Tweet

• We apologise for the inconvenience

It’s not personal, it’s robotic and unfit for purpose.

'We apologise for the inconvenience' is a canned apology that holds no meaning at all. Click To Tweet

How to apologise to a customer

Ideally, you don’t want to have caused problems for your customers. They would never need to complain, and you would never need to apologise.

But mistakes happen, systems crash. Apologies are a fact of life. So, when the time comes, use efficient apology statements to get things back on track.

You have the apology statements, now get the chat channel.

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