Timing an Apology Correctly

When should you deliver the apology? How does timing an apology correctly affect the way it's perceived? Does every incident require immediate action or do some situations warrant a delay?

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As we illustrated in the example of a typical customer apology letter, timing an apology correctly with a quick response to a business error can actually benefit the company and build on customer loyalty. There are very few cases when it's best to hold off on apologizing, especially in business.

However, 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. Follow this link to learn more about the legal implications of business apologies.

Apologies are about acknowledging a mistake or wrongdoing, and their effectiveness is largely determined by the offended party believing in their sincerity.

Poor timing or a delay in delivering a business apology could raise questions about your sincerity or imply ulterior motives. In either case, it's bad for business.

For example, 'Company B' is a vendor of 'Company A' whose last shipment of product was unsatisfactory. The company advises the vendor of the situation with a detailed account of the poor quality of goods they received. The vendor, for some reason, holds off on extending an apology for the substandard shipment.

How does timing an apology play into how the apology is perceived? How does the relationship between the two companies change as a result of poor timing?

By waiting, the company that received the poor quality goods is now more likely to question the integrity of the vendor. They'd be considering the reasons why the vendor didn't apologize and acknowledge the problem with their product when there's tangible evidence of defective goods?

Some of the likely conclusions they will draw on the vendor are:

→  The company doesn't care about the relationship.
→  They can't be relied on to deliver as promised.
→  The company has no long-term vision or integrity.
→  The company is only interested in making money.

Once an individual or group begins to think of the vendor in these terms the dynamic of the relationship will have changed.

If a business apology is issued too late, it will likely be viewed as insincere or, worse, as a shallow effort to de-escalate the conflict to avoid further action. In our case, the vendor will still be viewed as untrustworthy and, therefore, unworthy of future business.

However, a well timed apology in the same situation can produce significantly more positive (and profitable) results.

With proper timing, the apology is now more likely to be viewed as sincere. As a result, the company will gain more trust and integrity while creating the impression it has long term vision and cares about its customers.

Since dealing with problems is such a natural and important part of doing business, the perception created by a well timed apology will inevitably enhance the overall value of maintaining the business relationship.

So given the same set of circumstances we now see that timing an apology correctly can make all the difference in how it, and the person or company extending it, are perceived.

See a sample apology letter that the vendor should have issues promptly in this situation to save the relationship and build trust.