Business Apology Letters: When & Why
What's better for your business? To write an apology letter, send a quick note, or shoot off an email? And, when should your business apology be extended over the phone or in person?
The right call will always depend on your particular situation and the relationship between the parties involved. However, in most cases, a well-crafted business apology letter is more often than not the safest approach especially if the relationship is not a 'personal' one.
WARNING: Never assume the relationship is personal and friendly unless you're absolutely sure. A business apology based on the wrong assumption can be potentially harmful and counter-productive.
One key benefit to writing out your mea culpa is that a letter of apology, sent via regular mail or email gives you the time to choose the right words and allows you to make sure that all the 'elements' of a perfect apology are in place.
Which as we've stated before are: Providing a detailed account; acknowledging the damage done; taking responsibility; recognizing your company's role; including a statement of regret; asking to be forgiven along with a promise that it won't happen again; providing a form of restitution.
In business, it simply costs much more to acquire a new customer, partner, or vendor than to retain an existing one so it's important that you get it right the first time.
As an added benefit, written apologies can be archived and over time you'll end up with a set of sample business apology letters tailored to your business that will allow you to quickly respond to similar situations in the future.
Delivering A Business Apology Letter
A letter of apology in business can be sent three different ways each conveying a slightly distinct (but meaningful) measure of seriousness and respect.
A letter sent by courier or priority post, for example, conveys more importance than regular mail, and regular mail more than an email, even today. So although the letter's content may be identical and all three approaches provide the injured party with a tangible piece of evidence that acknowledges the business mistakes made, and the inconvenience suffered, some situations require additional signals.
As an example, sending a letter by courier when both parties know that it could've been done through email sends a strong message that you understand the seriousness of the situation and speaks volumes to the recipient beyond the written words.
On the other hand, if the parties involved have more than a strictly business relationship then the manner in which the apology is delivered needs to be looked at more closely.
Verbal Apologies in Business
If a customer or vendor frequents the business premises on a regular basis, or is spoken to often over the phone, and a sense of familiarity has grown as a result, then a verbal apology by phone or in person may be more appropriate. In fact, if a more formal approach is used it may signal to them that their assumptions about the nature of the relationship are wrong.
TIP: Make sure to jot down some notes on paper prior to apologizing so that you're prepared and know exactly what needs to be said for your apology to be effective.
Choosing whether to apologize by telephone or in person is largely dependant upon timing and geography. Assuming the apology's recipient is within reasonable geographic proximity the decision should be made based on when you will next see the person. In some cases, depending on the nature of the error, taking the time to make a longer trip in person may be the right thing to do.
If the delay is reasonable and the cause for the apology is not too severe then waiting until the next time you see one another is acceptable. However, if one or neither of these conditions is true then picking up the phone as soon as possible and extending the apology is recommended.
Two-Tiered Business Apologies
If a similar situation occurs, but the injured party in this case is not a customer but instead a partner or vendor, then a verbal apology is still appropriate and should be followed up with a business apology letter to acknowledge that you understand that although there is familiarity this is still a business relationship.
This two-tiered approach helps to re-establish the business relationship after the incident. It shows the injured party that you understand the rules and boundaries of business, and that the business relationship that you share is separate from any personal one that you may have.
When it comes to business, apologizing for mistakes made is critical. People understand that things go wrong sometimes and will accept an occasional mistake. What they won't forgive however is how things were handled once those mistakes were made.
So remember to always tailor the manner in which you deliver your mea culpa with the same care that you take in preparing for a verbal apology or writing out a business apology letter. Think about the situation, the mistakes made, the parties involved, and consider the best way to make amends so that your business relationship will survive and thrive well into the future.