How to Apologize Professionally in an Email: Tips to Try
Molly Hitchens studied business for years before launching her career as a journalist and analyst specializing in original and innovative business planning. She shares her expertise through her work with The Idea Trader as well as through in-person speaking engagements at universities around the country.
Even in the most successful and efficient companies, problems arise. The importance of apologizing for a work-related problem is enormous.
Letting disagreements stagnate can cause even bigger problems in the future, and can maybe even get you fired.
And given the trends of contemporary businesses you may not always have the opportunity to speak with a frustrated client or customer in-person.
There may be times when you’ll need to compose an apology email, whether it’s to a client, a fellow co-worker, or even a supervisor.
Below you’ll find our guide on how to apologize professionally in an email. Take each of these tips into consideration and alter them accordingly to fit your specific situation.
Review the Disagreement
It may be that you weren’t directly involved with the issue at hand. And even if you were, your perception of the incident may not be the same as that of the client.
Two people can experience the same moment in very different ways. This is especially true when it comes to negative experiences and interactions, such as arguments and disagreements.
If the problem took place in emails, go back through each individual email and try to come to a more objective understanding of what happened.
If the disagreement took place in-person, do your best to remember the conversation.
Look for the Core of the Dispute
Try to find the core of the problem. Was an order incorrect? Was a promise for a discount not honored? Was there a miscommunication when it came to pricing?
Finding the real source of the disagreement can help you compose a more understanding and thoughtful apology email.
Discern Who is at Fault
If possible, determine who was at fault. Maybe it was you. Maybe it was based on company policies. Or maybe it was the fault of the client.
If the client was at fault, do not mention this in your apology email. This is simply a way to inform how your own company runs, and where problems tend to arise.
Assess the Importance of the Problem
If the mistake was fairly minor, you may want to consult with your boss or manager before sending a formal apology email.
There are certain situations in which an apology may seem over the top and unnecessary. If possible, try to avoid sending an apology email when one wasn’t required.
If the customer is upset, then you should send an apology no matter what. Even if the negative impact to the company is relatively minor, you should aim to keep your clients happy.
Clear Your Head
Before writing your apology email, take a few deep breaths and let yourself relax. You don’t want to be in a negative headspace while writing.
Instead, remain professional, calm, and collected, even if you’re alone in your office.
Once relaxed, you can approach the email, and the situation, objectively. Try to refrain from placing blame or repeating a hardline stance that may have caused the problem in the first place.
Explain the Purpose of Your Email
Open the apology email with a polite greeting and a simple apology. Try using a phrase like, “I just wanted to apologize for your recent experience.”
This will set an apologetic tone early on, making it more likely that the client will read the email the whole way through and hear what you have to say.
If you’re willing to offer a compromise or a solution, mention this but do not detail the compromise until later in the email.
Just let them know that you take the situation very seriously and that you regret the situation.
Acknowledge Their Complaints
Now that the recipient knows exactly why you’re sending the email, you can move onto the next major segment: acknowledging their complaints in detail.
Take the time to list out the client’s complaints to the best of your understanding. This will show the client that you understand their perspective and take their complaints seriously.
This also validates their frustration and may help them to calm down and see the situation rationally.
Explain Your Perspective
Now that you’ve helped the client to calm down a bit and given them a chance to absorb your apology, you can explain your perspective.
Feel free to describe the way in which you experienced the given problem. Maybe you were present for the argument, maybe not. Explain the information that was given to you following the incident.
If the central disagreement is based on hardline company policy, then this is your chance to explain why the policy was put in place, and why it can’t be changed.
In a corporate setting, there are countless rules and regulations that determine how employees are allowed to conduct business.
Stepping beyond these rules can cause many different problems, even if the exception doesn’t seem significant at the time.
Offer a Potential Solution
The end of the email is your opportunity to present a peace offering to help resolve the client’s negative experience.
If it’s a simple matter of sending a replacement item, then this portion of the email will be easy to write.
But if there’s no way to remedy the immediate effects of the mistake, then you may need to get a bit more creative with the solution you offer.
Consider offering a discount on future purchases, a free gift to better express the apology, or maybe additional benefits from the company in the future, from free shipping to special coupons.
Aside from the tips and guidelines mentioned above, the most important thing to remember when writing an apology email is that you’re speaking with another human being who is upset.
They deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of who was at fault.
Write a few different drafts of your email before deciding on a final version to send.
To test out specific wordings and sentences, try reading the email out loud to yourself or to a friend. Listen for awkward wordings or phrases that may come across as sarcasm when read in an email.
This will help you avoid further confusion and misunderstanding. It also helps your email come across and genuine and compassionate.
Also, if you need to apologize in-person, rather than in an email, you may want to read this helpful article that will give you some great pointers.