Customer Service Recovery. The Power Of Apology

As I was adding some comments to our Polite Done Right e-book, analyzing some examples of customer service I kept comparing different situations, and different practices.

There was this standard model of customer service that I was using: Be polite. Be apologetic.  Be understanding. Be helpful.


Yes, yes, apologetic. You have to assume an apologizing role when you work in customer service, even if you have nothing to do with the problem. There’s just no escaping it.

Such is the nature of human beings, we just “have” to find someone at fault, otherwise there’s no feeling of fulfillment when something doesn’t go/work as planned. There’s no one else to pin it on.




Still, why should you apologize?


To help customers move past the negativity and pinned up stress over the problem, and help you start doing your job. Try putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.

It shouldn’t be too hard, since we’re all consumers, and customers of someone.



Think of all the occasions you were dissatisfied with a company’s product or service, and try to recall how the issue was resolved.

Did the company’s representative apologize for it? How did it make you feel?

I bet it alleviated some stress and allowed you to move on to the solution. Now try adapting this practice.


Remember. After being given a sincere apology dissatisfied customers are more likely to accept whatever else you have to say.




The meaning of a sincere apology


Sincere apology is what sets your customer service apart from a dry, routine-like model adapted by most of the companies, and adds a human touch to every conversation.

It lets your customers understand that you value their time, and are genuinely concerned. Furthermore it allows the customers to understand that you ARE, in fact, there to help them, and not just be present as the company’s beating bag for misconduct.


Take a look at this example of “How apologizing paid off”


The University of Michigan Health System decided to enable doctors, nurses and all hospital staff to exercise their natural instinct and to say “sorry” when something went wrong.

An early adopter of a process that encourages transparency with healthcare providers and patients and their families, the University of Michigan encourages (without fear) a swift and caring explanation, and when appropriate, a heartfelt apology.


Doctors and lawyers worried that this level of transparency and just uttering the words “sorry” would drive an increase in claims and malpractice suits. But when put into practice, the complete opposite occurred. From 262 claims in August 2001, the number dropped to 104 in 2006, the last figures publicly reported. Average legal expenses dropped by 50 percent.


Moral of the story: a good apology trumps the legal system. As long as the apology is sincere and the effort to make amends is genuine. People prefer the human connection of the apology.




Take it one step further!


Remember that the way you apologize can make a world of difference.

Giving the dry “I’m sorry” isn’t going to get you far. In order to accomplish a mutual understanding the apology has to come with a solution, or at least an attempt at finding it.

You have to ensure the client, that you are indeed concerned with his problem and trying your best to resolve it.


According to Forbes’ Erika Andersen the way you structure your apology can be a decisive point in solving a problem, as well as earning a loyal customer! She writes:

Feel the difference between these two approaches:

  • “I’m sorry you felt we didn’t resolve your concern correctly, but I was just following our reservation procedures.”

as opposed to:

  • “I’m so sorry I didn’t resolve your concern. Let’s figure out how to make this work for you.”

The second person would have me as a loyal customer.  The first one wouldn’t.  It’s that simple.


So, apologize like you mean it! It will save your business and get you one step closer to earning loyal customers.




On to you! How do you apologize to your customers? Did you gained loyal customers just by apologizing?

Leave your stories and answers in the comments




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Photo credit: keyofnight / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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Art Zabalov

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Inbound Marketing research. Creative marketing with a personal touch.
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