How to Apologize to a Customer for Bad Service + Templates

For a business, there’s nothing better than knowing you’ve delivered an exceptional customer experience.

You crave those moments when you exceed your customers’ expectations and successfully carry out your brand vision. On the flip side, there’s nothing worse than failing your customers and not living up to your customer service goals.

We’re all human and bound to make mistakes, which is why it’s so important to know how to apologize to a customer for bad service. In this business environment, it’s not enough to just admit wrongdoing when a customer has a bad experience.

To stand out from your competitors and reduce churn, you need to show your customers that you care about them by taking the extra step and crafting a professional, heartfelt apology. Even the most forgiving of customers will only tolerate so many poor experiences before they take their business elsewhere. In fact, 73% of customers say they will abandon a brand after 3 negative experiences.

To reduce churn and increase retention rates, you need to learn how to apologize to a customer for bad service. By avoiding some common mistakes, following apology best practices, and leveraging tools and resources to make your job easier, you can provide a better customer experience and demonstrate your commitment to your customers’ satisfaction.

principles of customer experience

Common Mistakes Businesses Make When Apologizing

There is an art to making an apology. Some people know how to make an apology sound genuine. Meanwhile, others can’t help coming off as insincere. The same is true with businesses.

Many businesses will make an apology for bad service but do so in a way that leaves a sour taste in the customer’s mouth. Still worse, sometimes an apology achieves the opposite intended effect and ends up driving a customer further away. When making an apology to a customer for bad service, you’ll want to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Playing down your customer’s feelings (e.g., “No one has ever complained about this before.”)
  • Failing to own up to your mistakes (e.g., “What happened wasn’t our fault.”)
  • Making promises you can’t possibly keep (e.g., “We promise that this will never happen again.”)
  • Keeping the apology vague (e.g., “A problem occurred in our processes, but we’ve identified the issue and it’s been resolved.”)
  • Apologizing too much (e.g., “We’re so sorry. You can’t imagine how sorry we are. We just want to let you know how sorry we are. Sorry sorry sorry.”)
  • Offering a begrudging apology (e.g., “We didn’t do anything wrong, but we’re sorry if that will make you feel better.”)

A superficial or insincere apology is sometimes worse than no apology at all. Additionally, avoid trying to buy off your customer’s feelings by offering gifts in lieu of an apology. According to research conducted by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, 37% of customers who complained due to poor service reported that they were satisfied after receiving compensation for their issues. However, the number of customers who reported satisfaction jumped to 74% when they also received an apology.

Don’t just sweep problems under the rug. By avoiding these common mistakes and adhering to best practices when making an apology, your company will reap the benefits in the form of increased client satisfaction, reduced churn, and greater revenue.

5 Apology Best Practices

At some point, something will go wrong and you will deliver poor customer service. Perhaps your website will crash, or one of your customer service representatives will mess up a client’s order. When this happens, make sure you adhere to these five best practices to ensure your apology hits the mark.

1. Offer a sincere apology

Remember when we said that you shouldn’t apologize too much? While that’s true, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apologize at all. On the contrary, no apology is complete without a heartfelt apology and plea for forgiveness.

A simple, “we apologize, we hope you can forgive us,” can go a long way to mending the client relationship and restoring trust in your business. Keep your apology short and sweet. Avoid histrionics or being overly dramatic.

You don’t want to come off as insincere or trite, so just stick to the basics. It will make you appear more authentic and endear you to the customer.

2. Take ownership

The most important thing you can do when making an apology is to admit wrongdoing. Even if the customer making the complaint was the one primarily at fault, your company failed your customer in some capacity.

Perhaps you didn’t properly communicate expectations, or maybe you failed to detect a processing error before it was too late.  No matter who is at fault, it’s essential that you take ownership of the problem.

By holding your company responsible, you signal a level of maturity and responsibility that lets your customers know you are willing to put their interests first.

3. Explain what happened

Taking ownership of a customer’s complaint is almost meaningless if you can’t explain what happened to cause the problem in the first place. When dealing with an irate customer, it pays to balance empathy with cold hard facts. You can deescalate a tense situation by calmly explaining the sequence of events that led to the bad service experience.

Clearly laying out what happened demonstrates that your company took the time to approach the customer’s complaint thoughtfully and uncover all the facts. Additionally, offering an explanation about what happened gives you a chance to win over the customer to your side.

Perhaps the bad service experience really wasn’t your company’s fault, but unless you explore the problem fully the customer may always doubt what really happened.

4. Outline the solution

The purpose of a complaint is to elicit a response. Given this fact, every customer complaint comes with the expectation of an appropriate solution. In your apology, make it a point to acknowledge the customer’s goals. Whether it’s about a server outage, a delayed order, or an unpleasant interaction with a customer service representative, each complaint is delivered with a specific outcome in mind.

Mention this concern in your apology and you will be halfway to addressing the problem. Next, you’ll want to outline the steps you’re going to take moving forward. In providing actionable next steps, you will convince the customer that you take their concerns seriously.

This will not only help to soothe their frustration, but it will also improve your own business processes by giving you insight into customer pain points.

5. Follow up

Don’t just assume that your job is done after you’ve sent your apology. Once you’ve delivered your apology, you’ll want to schedule a follow-up conversation with the customer.

Reach out via an appropriate channel after a reasonable period of time to see if the apology was effective or if more needs to be done. In your follow-up message, mention any changes that you’ve instituted since your last message, and draw attention to how the customer’s complaint has influenced your company’s procedures.

Your customer will appreciate your continued effort and recognize the lengths that you’re taking to ensure that their needs are being met.

5 Templates You Can Use When You Need to Make an Apology

Every customer complaint is unique and requires special attention. That said, you should attempt to automate your apology process as much as possible to save yourself time and effort.

To aid you, we’ve collected 5 templates that address some of the most common customer complaints. We advise you to adjust these templates to suit your business and personalize them so they fit your brand.

1. Negative customer service experience

Sometimes, your customer service team is the one responsible for a customer complaint. In this scenario, you’ll want to use an apology that expresses your regret for how the situation was handled:

“Dear (customer name),

I’m so sorry about the recent interaction you had with one of our team members. I take full responsibility for what happened and apologize that you were not treated with the care and respect that you deserve. 

Here at (your company name), we pride ourselves on delivering excellent customer service. The experience you had is not representative of who we are as a company. However, that’s no excuse for the way you were treated.

I assure you that we’re reevaluating our customer service training and intend to review this situation with our customer service team. 

I hope that you can forgive us and that we can continue to do business together. 

Please let me know if you have any questions or need any further assistance. 

Regards, 

(Your name)” 

2. Website or system outage

Even the best companies have technology issues every now and then. If a widespread website or system issue occurs that affects multiple customers at the same time you’re going to need to get ahead of the crisis. A mass apology email can help to reduce anxiety, negative reviews, and churn, which can alleviate stress for both you and your customers:

“Dear (your company) customers,

Today at (time), we experienced a (website failure/system outage), which affect (number) customers. 

(Provide a detailed description of what happened).

Our service team is working on a solution to the problem, and we’re sorry if this has impacted you personally. We will keep you in the loop as we work to identify the root cause, scale, and solution so that this problem doesn’t happen again.

We appreciate your business and thank you for your understanding and patience. 

Sincerely,

(Your name)”

3. Late or lost shipment

Mistakes happen, especially when the post office or a courier service gets involved. Orders are going to be delayed or get lost in transition, and when this happens you need to be proactive and communicate this delay to your customers. A quick email with a discount code included can help reduce churn and may even increase customer loyalty and revenue:

“Dear (customer name),

We want to thank you for being a loyal (your company name) customer. 

You recently ordered (product or service) from our website. We’re sorry to say that an unexpected (describe what happened to cause delay or lost shipment) has led to a delay in the delivery of your order. 

Rest assured that you will receive your (product or service) and we appreciate your patience as we work through this issue. 

As a token of our appreciation, we’ve included a discount for a (%) off your next order. 

Thank you for your business and forgiveness. 

Regards, 

(Your name)” 

4. Billing error

When a customer feels like you’re mismanaging their money, problems are bound to occur. If a billing error happens, you need to assure the customer that you’re handling the issue and that their money is in safe hands:

“Dear (customer name),

We’re sorry to report that a billing error has been made in your account.

On (date), (describe in detail how the billing error happened).

Our service team is hard at work reviewing the situation, and we will follow up with you once the error has been fixed and your transactions history reflects the correct charges.

We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience as we work to update your account statement.

Please accept this (%) discount code for use at our online store as a token of our appreciation for your business.

Regards,

(Your name)” 

5. Inaccurate communication

Occasionally, you’re going to jump the gun or communicate information that isn’t true. When that happens, it pays to own up to the error and make the situation right:

“Dear (customer name), 

Early today, at (time) we sent an email stating (describe the message of the incorrect communication). 

In reality, (provide accurate information, and explain why the error occurred). 

Here at (your company name), we strive to provide you with the best customer experience possible, which includes providing you with accurate information. 

We’re sorry for the confusion, and thank you for your understanding. 

Sincerely,

(Your name)” 

Why It’s Important to Apologize for Bad Service

The customer is always right. It may be a cliché, but it’s also true, especially when it comes time to make an apology. If your company is at fault for a service outage, billing error, or inaccurate communication, it’s vital to own up to your mistake.

Managing customer feedback is a full-time job, especially when it comes to handling customer complaints. Do yourself and your business a favor and devote the time and resources needed to fully investigate complaints so that you can provide a well-informed, considerate, and effective apology.


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Sarah Chambers Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers is a Customer Support Consultant and Content Creator from Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter @sarahleeyoga to keep up with her adventures.

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