Business Apologies 101

Business apologies are usually the result of a business oversight, human error, an indiscretion, or something your company failed to do, prevent or anticipate.

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Business errors include, among other infractions: poor service, billing issues, shipment delays, missed deadlines, computer glitches, defective products, unsatisfactory services, and misplaced or mixed up orders.

Some errors are preventable while others aren't. In the world of business apologies it just doesn't matter—APOLOGIZE!

Instead of viewing an apology as an unfortunate part of the job that forces you to acknowledge a weakness, view them as a valuable opportunity to solidify and build your business relationships.

There are obviously hundreds of other potential reasons why a business apology may be appropriate—don't avoid them, look for them, analyze them and USE them. Companies often make mistakes that are overlooked by clients. These mistakes should NOT be viewed as close calls but INSTEAD as opportunities.

For example, we know of a major airline carrier who has one of the most proactive apology systems in business that distributes frequent flyer miles to customers who have experienced delays or other problems BEFORE getting the email or complaint. The letter is sent out to all customers, even those that understood the circumstances and where never intending to complain.

By doing so, not only are they solidifying their relationships with their customers but also building on their existing loyalty program. It's a win-win situation for them and makes perfect business sense. See a sample of the proactive business apology letter they use.

But, in order to formulate business apologies and direct them to the appropriate parties, we need to clearly understand what it is that we're apologizing for, and all of the repercussions that surround the incident.

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In our sample customer apology letter it was very clear what the problem was and who the apology should be directed to. However, not all situations will be as black and white.

Take the following example: 'Employee A' breaks a confidence and reveals to office personal information about "Employee B" leading to the resignation of 'Employee B', what does "Employee A" apologize for and to whom?

It goes without saying that 'Employee A' needs to apologize to 'Employee B' for breaking their confidence which led to the eventual resignation. But is that the end of it? What other factors, if any, are there to consider?

If properly thought through, 'Employee A' will realize that the company now has a human resource issue due to their indiscretion and the sudden departure of an employee—an issue that also needs to be addressed.

So the perfect apology in this situation should include a letter of apology to their boss for the inconvenience that the resignation of 'Employee B' has caused the company.

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Problems and mistakes are, well, a part of doing business and being human. And, as much as we and those that we deal with in our business life, would like them not to happen, they do. What's important to remember when trying to determine a course of action is to analyze and assess the situation from different points of view.

Appreciating how others have been affected by an event and understanding what repercussions surround that event, is an important part of delivering business apologies.

Business apologies can more complicated than personal ones because there are often a host of affected parties. So make sure that you take into account all of the parties involved and see things from their perspective. By doing so, you'll quickly realize who you should be apologizing to and reap the benefits of a perfect apology.

Learn about formal business apologies and when they're most appropriate.