How to Effectively Apologize to Customers

‘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.

Listen Carefully

The road to a good apology is to set up a masterful apology with active listening. The bad news is, active listening is difficult.

This can be especially problematic for a live chat agent, because it’s your job to get to the bottom of a customer’s issue. And the only way to issue 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.

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 as an ecommerce customer service agent 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.

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

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 (and at times they do), you need to be able tell them why things have gone wrong. But you also need to cushion an explanation with adequate measures of blame:

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 1) not asked for and 2) used to deflect blame.

Communicate the Solution

They say actions speak louder than words, but when you’re a live chat agent, words are the only way to explain your actions. 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 patronage.

Use a Customizable Live Chat Script

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

Live Chat Scripts to Make Stellar Agents

[Free Download] Live Chat Scripts to Make Stellar Agents

If you don’t currently have a script on hand, download our free Live Chat Scripts to Make Stellar Agents. With 120+ ready-to-use live chat scripts for 8 common scenarios, you’re sure to find the script you need to sharpen your customer service skills.

Download the Scripts Now

Read More: Apologize For Your Screw Up