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How to apologize to a customer

by Alex Yumashev · May 12 2014

As customer support engineers we have to apologize a lot. This is probably what we do most often. When I was just starting out in customer support it was the hardest thing for me to figure out. When a customer is upset, angry or furious — what do you do to make things right? Simply solving the issue was never enough. I was struggling to find the answer for a long time and I think I finally found it - after years of working in customer support and developing a helpdesk ticketing system. The right apology can work magic. An apology is a chance to convert a disappointed customer into a loyal customer if you know how to handle it right.

"Sorry about the inconvenience"

We've all heard this phrase before. Probably multiple times. Here is a question: do you think hearing it made anyone feel better? If anything, this phrase only makes you feel worse. It means absolutely nothing.

I'm going to repeat this over and over in every future blog post about customer support: sound like a human being, not like a robot. Imagine someone spilling coffee on you and saying "oh, sorry for the inconvenience this caused you". People do not say "inconvenience" in real life. They say "I'm really sorry". You need to sound like a human being if you want customers to believe that you are actually sorry.

Bad: Sorry about the inconvenience

Good: Gosh I'm so sorry about this. We screwed up.

Always take full responsibility

For some reason many support agents like to shift the blame: "I'm sorry that you got charged $10,000 twice. Our payment provider had some issues." Oh, right. It's not your fault. I get it. I'm not angry anymore.

It's always your fault. And you have to take full responsibility for it.

Bad: Sorry that our app was down for five hours. Our hosting provider is having some trouble.

Good: I'm so sorry for this downtime. This is totally our fault. The whole team is working with our hosting provider to resolve this as soon as possible.

There is no "you" in an apology

A good apology is all about empathy. In other words, you need to show that you really understand how the issue affects the customers.

Bad: Terribly sorry about that.

Good: I know this is a huge disruption to your day. I'm sorry that we caused this frustration.

Good apology checklist

Those were the main guidelines you should always keep in mind when writing an apology. And here is a short checklist you can use:

  1. Listen.
  2. Start with a "thank you"
  3. Say you are sorry and take the blame.
  4. Explain what happened and what's being done to resolve the issue. Don't dumb it down.
  5. Depending on an issue, you can offer something to the customer to make up for it.
  6. Thank the customer for using your product and for bearing with you while you resolved the issue.

We all make mistakes — customers understand that. How you handle your mistakes is what makes you stand out. No matter how angry a customer is, you can always fix it with a good apology.