How to apologise to a disappointed customer

By Renata Mathewson, Maple Marketing

Smart phones and social media have changed the landscape of customer care for businesses. Word of mouth spreads faster than ever before, and how you as a business owner handle customer complaints is now a very public matter.

There is a saying that goes something like, “it’s not the mistakes you make, but how you deal with them that defines your character”. Similarly, how you respond to customer complaints is sometimes more important than the mistakes made.

Here, then, are a few tips on how to apologise to a disappointed customer. These steps can be adapted regardless of how you communicate with your customers – phone, letter, email or social media.

Step one: Listen. Listen to what the customer has to say. Without interrupting them or getting defensive, let them explain how they see the situation and how they feel. Ask questions to get all the details and to show your concern.

Step two: Apologise. Do it promptly. Apologise first, get to the details second. If your organisation has a social media presence, you should be monitoring it in real time. You should know as soon as someone posts or tweets something about your business. If it’s a complaint, say you’re sorry. Regardless of where the blame lies, you should be sorry that they’re unhappy or upset. And you should thank them for bringing the matter to your attention.

Step three: Take responsibility. Again, without placing blame, take responsibility of the matter and take control of what’s going to happen next. Admit to a break down in service if appropriate. Don’t blame the customer and don’t blame another department. If it’s clear you or your staff have made an error, be forthcoming in admitting your fault. Explain what went wrong.

Step four: Rectify the problem. Tell the customer what you’re going to do about the problem and how you’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Step five: Compensate. Volunteer some sort of compensation, or ask the customer what they would like. Often this turns a bad situation into positive publicity or word of mouth. Your customer may go from telling all their friends about the problem, to telling them about the great remedy and customer service offered. Don’t underestimate the power of the tweet.

Step six: Reassure. Let your customer know that you will do everything you can to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again. If possible, be specific and let them know what steps you’ve put in place to monitor, measure, change things.

Step seven: Apologise. Yes, do it again. Reiterate that you are sorry for the mistake, or sorry for their disappointment. And give them a way to contact you directly if they want to discuss the matter further.

Adapt these steps so they work in your organisation, and for the different types of communication you use. Make sure everyone who has contact with customers knows them and is comfortable with them. Review and revise the steps as you use them – an apology mustn’t sound prescribed or scripted. The more genuine and customised it is, the more powerful it will be. Don’t forget that every contact with a customer or prospect is a form of marketing and an opportunity to impress.

If you would like help incorporating these steps into your marketing materials – letters, emails, auto-respond messages, or other communications – please get in touch on