How to Apologize: 5 Elements of a Successful ‘I’m Sorry’

01. August 2017

No apology is less genuine than from a three-year-old, eyes down, body turned away, fists clenched, and feet threatening to stomp.

Why should you apologize?


Some companies don’t allow their team members to say “sorry” because they fear the legal consequences of “admitting fault.” That sort of attitude is infuriating to a customer who wants to hear someone admit their part in a problem.


I recall a New York Times article that looked at the rates of legal action taken against medical doctors by upset patients and relatives. Studies found that the biggest factor in reducing legal action was encouraging the doctors to candidly admit to their patients when they had made a mistake. A separate study found “people are more than twice as likely to forgive a company that says sorry than one that instead offers them cash.”


Acknowledgement of fault is a powerful act; it tells the customer “You are right, I see your perspective, and I understand it.” It recognizes a shared reality with the customer and is the opposite of the defensiveness and denial approach we can fall into. It also helps that an effective apology costs a lot less than a court case or even a refund or discount.

(“Effective” is the key word, because not every apology hits the mark. “Sorry for any inconvenience” is a phrase which now means almost the exact opposite of the words it contains.)


How to craft an effective customer service apology


I’m talking about written apologies because practicing with writing gives you more time to consider and modify your response, but the same concepts apply on the phone or in person.

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