How to Apologize to a Customer for a Mistake: Tips to Try

February 27, 2019

“Your Customer is King, and the customer is always right.” Do you know how to apologize to a customer for a mistake? What do you do when you handle a customer in a way that causes he or she to take offense?

Statistics show that an aggrieved customer is more likely to share a bad experience with his/her circle of friends than when he/she has had a good experience.

For this reason, if you make a mistake, you have to apologize promptly and efficiently. In this article, we will discuss how to apologize to a customer for a mistake and still save your business image.


How to Apologize to a Customer for a Mistake: The 3 Approaches

Apologize Immediately

When you make a mistake, do you assume that the customer will not take it too seriously? Or do you go out of your way to make amends before everything spills out of proportion? How long do you take to acknowledge your mistake?

As a professional, you should never let the mistake escalate to unmanageable levels. Apologize immediately, as soon as the mistake happens. By doing so, your client will view you as considerate and will most likely not overreact. 

Take a Solution-Oriented Approach

Sometimes we know how to apologize to a customer for a mistake. However, if the timing is wrong, the customer will not receive the apology well.

how to apologize to a customer for a mistake

By offering possible solutions to salvage the situation, the customer can become loyal and a valuable ambassador for your products or services. It could also initiate the process of trying to save your business’s tarnished public image.

Possible solutions include:

  • Discounts
  • Refunds
  • Rebates
  • Complementary products and services

This approach may remedy the situation or provide relief to the customer.

The product or service you offer as an apology should be of an equal scale to the initial product or service that is in dispute. Never offer your old products and services as freebies to your customer. You don’t want to run the risk of the customer rejecting your counteroffer.

Let the Customer Take Charge

One way of showing appreciation to a customer is by involving them in coming up with better processes that deal with the root cause of your conflict. If possible, ask your clients for feedback on how he/she would want to see things done in the future.

Rectify the root cause of the mistake. Change your policies and processes to reflect the learning curve.

And, most importantly, let the customers know that you have considered their opinions in coming up with new policies. This approach is the only sure way to ensure such an error will not happen again.

feedback from customers

How to Structure the Apology

Apply Empathy

Take the customer’s perspective and look at the mistake you just made. How does it make you feel? Use words such as “Sorry,” and “I understand,” to show empathy to the affected customers. However, you must genuinely look for the real reason why the client is unhappy.

Your mistake could have broken the trust the customer had in your services. This broken trust could have further led to delays on the customer’s side. When apologizing for a mistake that has had ripple effects, ensure you acknowledge all the damage caused because of your error.

Usually, an aggrieved customer is either angry or very dissatisfied with your products or services. Such a customer may, in a moment of rage, take irrational action against you or your products and services.

To mitigate the damage, showing empathy helps in cooling down emotions. It also replaces these emotions with rational reasoning. 

Be Specific

Do you understand the mistake you or your organization made? Use words that address the situation clearly. For example, if you know the customer by name, address him/her individually.

Avoid this familiar phrase, “We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused.”

This phrase is often misused and overused by large corporations. Instead, use one of these sentence structures to make a direct apology: 

  • I am sorry for our mistake.
  • I apologize for not meeting the project deadline.
  • I am deeply sorry for the delay in delivery of your product as earlier agreed.

how to apologize to a customer for a mistake

Offer a Self-Explanatory Apology

After you have shown empathy and offered a direct apology, provide a brief explanation of what could have caused the mistake. Be careful not to come across as passing the buck.

Use a series of questions to find out the root cause of the mistake. Once you have singled out the reason, explain it to the customer in summary and move on.

Here is a quick example:

The mistake: Client complains they received stale food

The apology:  I am sorry the takeaway food delivered to your house was stale.

The questions to find out the root cause would be as follows:

Q. Why was the food stale?

A. Because the food was not freshly cooked.

Q. Why was the meal not freshly cooked?

A. Because the head chef was absent on Monday.

Q. Why was the head chef not in on Monday?

A. Because he took emergency leave and we had no quick replacement. That is the root cause of the mistake.

So, when you are drafting your apology, it should sound like this:

“I am sorry the takeaway food delivered to your house was stale. We currently handle fewer orders due to a shortage of kitchen staff.”

how to apologize to a customer for a mistake

Using this explanation does not shift the blame on the food suppliers or the delivery person. It blames the root cause of the mistake.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, as human beings, we are all bound to make mistakes. The first step is usually an apology. However, a customer’s apology must have the right structure.

Clearly define the mistake, who it has affected, the potential effect this mistake has on the customer, and how you intend to remedy the situation now and in the future.

Remember that from the customer’s perspective, it doesn’t matter who caused it, he/she views it collectively as having being created by your company. But now that you understand how to apologize to a customer for a mistake, turn your disgruntled customer into a loyal one.

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