Need the Perfect Business Apology?

Extending the perfect business apology can be slightly more complex than apologizing in our personal life.

Pen and Paper

Regardless of how the apology is delivered, through a business apology letter or verbal communication, the basic principles are the same. However, the content of the apology itself, the timing, and the manner in which it is delivered really depends on the parties involved.

In business, there are simply more factors at play.

Although moral reasons exist equally for both personal and business apologies, strategic reasons for extending an apology are more common in business and are based purely on business decisions.

Remember the old saying... The customer is always right? This is a time tested customer service philosophy that virtually every successful company adheres to. What's the end result of such a policy?

A series of business apologies that are extended by a company or its representatives regardless of who's at fault. These are apologies that are offered for rational strategic reasons related to customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer loyalty.

However, when carefully crafted, the same end-results can be achieved with an apology even when the company has made a mistake. On the other hand, a poorly crafted, badly timed or non-existent apology will lose this and many other customers. In many cases, especially in regard to customer complaints, the perfect customer apology letter can help retain customers and present you with an opportunity to build customer loyalty.

Business is all about relationships—relationships with new customers, old customers, clients, vendors, and with the community-at-large.

To understand how you can tailor an apology to strengthen or rebuild one of these relationships you need to look at your particular circumstances. And to do this well, the following three strategies will come in handy.

No. 1 Look at the reasons behind the business apology and who's been affected.

No. 2 Determine the most appropriate way and time to apologize.

No. 3 Ask and answer the following four basic questions:

1 | What are you apologizing for?

2 | Who are you apologizing to?

3 | How do you apologize?

4 | When should you apologize?

Your answers to each of these questions will determine the perfect business apology for your situation, like “Vendor B” did in this sample business apology letter.

As for the apology itself, the guidelines for any perfect apology remain the same.

→  give a detailed account of the situation
→  acknowledge the hurt or damage done
→  take full responsibility
→  recognize your role or the company's in the situation
→  include a statement of regret
→  ask for forgiveness
→  promise that it won't happen again
→  provide a form of restitution if possible

Don't forget the importance of timing when delivering an apology AND beware of the common traps that many small businesses fall into.

When giving an account of the situation, only include the details of the specific event. In other words, don't talk about broader related issues. Remember that the apology is all about the recipient and the damage they've suffered, and not your business situation.

Don't make excuses or include any comments that could elicit a "that isn't my problem" type of response, as in "my assistant was home sick that day" or "I never saw the memo".

Finally, think about a proactive approach when apologizing to help solidify relationships with your customers. We show you how one airline, through an unprompted apology letter, leveraged unforeseen problems to build on their loyalty program and strengthen their customer base.

Also take a look at this masterfully crafted sample apology letter sent to us by one of our readers.

One final but important note:

If the incident could result in ANY form of legal action or liability with ANY party then delaying a response to seek the legal advice of an attorney is VERY prudent.

Learn more about the legal implications of a business apology.

Still looking for more? Our apology research section includes several case studies on corporate and business apologies and check out our Q & A session on corporate apologies during our interview with TheStreet.com.

You can also take a quick survey on corporate mea culpas or we can move on and investigate your situation.